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A final speed-limiter rule needs trucking's input

June 21, 2022
The issue falls to FMCSA to decipher current industry practices and find the right fit that reduces speed-related accidents. But it's important that every part of the trucking industry engages in this debate.

It’s been 36 years since “Top Gun” popularized the phrase “need for speed” after it arrived in theaters. How ironic it is that the film’s sequel has hit movie screens as the trucking industry faces rulemaking that seeks to control the speeds of commercial vehicles.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) on April 27 announced that it will again try to bring speed-related crashes under control by mandating that speeds of all U.S. Classes 7-8 commercial vehicles be limited using their electronic control units (ECUs).

I use the term “again” because this process started in August 2016 only to have FMCSA and the National Highway Safety Transportation Administration (NHTSA) abandon the speed-limiter effort. Their proposed rulemaking then sought comment from the trucking industry and the public on limiting speeds on trucks at either 60, 65, or 68 mph. FMCSA also is seeking public comment this time around for its push to govern speeds.

Certainly, the return of this issue has been a long time coming. In addition to the two agencies’ 2016 effort, Congress introduced a bill as recently as last year to try and curb the effects of speeding in highway accidents. Speeding, the discussion related to speed as a factor in causing accidents, and FMCSA’s recent notice of intent (NOI) for the new rulemaking should get the ball rolling on gathering information from the industry that will help shape a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking (SNPRM) in the near future.

See also: Speed limiters divide truckload meeting stakeholders

According to NHTSA, speed in 2019 was a contributing factor in 26% of traffic fatalities. Limiting speeds on commercial trucks won’t account for accidents on roads with posted speed limits that are lower than those on interstates. But as an industry, we certainly should be striving to get speeding under control. While the NOI does not mention a specific mandated speed for trucks, it certainly leaves trucking a voice to determine what that speed might be. Everyone should be seizing the opportunity to file comments on the questions that NOI is proposing to better shape what both the SNPRM and the final rule will look like.

The process that FMCSA seeks to take is one that involves the industry. It is seeking answers to 12 questions that appear in the NOI—inquiries that would not take very long and would help to provide a base for shaping a future SNPRM. Yes, carriers certainly have developed speed-limiting programs that have been practical for their fleets and operations, and the language surrounding these programs can vary across the board. FMCSA will face the unenviable task of trying to decipher that language.

Many carriers offer speed incentives for their safe performers, allowing an additional 1 to 2 miles per hour for proven safe drivers, a bonus that still doesn’t put them over 70 mph. Some fleets also allow for a period in which additional speed can be achieved to pass a vehicle. The issue of passing then becomes the ultimate question, as many have pointed out that limiting speeds on trucks could create a speed differential that would be hazardous to truck drivers and others with which they share the road. The reality is speed differentials already exist—and it’s not exactly a state secret that passenger vehicles travel at higher speeds around commercial motor vehicles.

See also: ATA, OOIDA weigh in on FMCSA's plan to mandate speed limiters

The issue truly falls to FMCSA to decipher current industry practices and find the right fit that reduces speed-related accidents. The role speed plays in accidents and fatalities on our highways is one that needs to be addressed in a manner that is constructive in its development and beneficial for everyone who shares the road. The 12 questions that are asked of the industry in the NOI represent an opportunity to explore the realities of a speed-limiter mandate based on current practices and equipment feasibility of the trucks on our highways today.

It's important that every part of the trucking industry engages in this meaningful debate so that FMCSA can obtain as much information as possible in its effort to formulate a rule that works for all involved and aids in the ultimate effort to reduce accidents on our highways.

David Heller is the senior vice president of safety and government affairs at the Truckload Carriers Association. Heller has worked for TCA since 2005, initially as director of safety, and most recently as the VP of government affairs.

About the Author

David Heller

David Heller is the senior vice president of safety and government affairs for the Truckload Carriers Association. Heller has worked for TCA since 2005, initially as director of safety, and most recently as the VP of government affairs. Before that, he spent seven years as manager of safety programs for American Trucking Associations.

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