Commentary: Need for Speed?

September 2016, - Editorial

by Deborah Lockridge, Editor-in-Chief - Also by this author

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Deborah Lockridge
Deborah Lockridge

It’s a matter of physics.

That’s what Mark Rosekind, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said in announcing a proposal to mandate speed limiters in heavy trucks.

“Even small increases in speed have large effects on the force of impact,” Rosekind said in a statement “Setting the speed limit on heavy vehicles makes sense for safety and the environment.”

The proposal, announced Aug. 26 by NHTSA and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, doesn’t call for a specific speed limit. Instead, it outlines the estimated benefits of 60, 65 and 68 mph and asks for comments on the wisdom of those speeds — or what other speeds commenters believe would be best.

The concept of speed limiters on heavy trucks is supported by safety advocacy groups and the American Trucking Associations, although the preferred details differ.

On the other hand, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has long argued against speed limiters, on the grounds that differentials in speed “increase interactions between vehicles, which increases the likelihood of crashes.”

In reality, many trucks on the road today are speed-limited by their fleet owners for both fuel-saving and safety benefits. In its proposal, the agencies cite a 2012 FMCSA study of 15,000 crashes that analyzed 20 such fleets. Trucks using speed limiters had a ratio of 1.6 crashes per 100 trucks per year, while those without had a ratio of 2.9.

Speed limiters are already a reality in other parts of the world, including Ontario and Quebec (105 kilometers per hour, or about 65 mph), Japan (90 kph/56mph), Australia (100 kph/62 mph, lower for road trains) and the European Union (100 kph/62 mph).

I’ve been on highways in Germany, where the trucks are speed-limited but in many rural areas of the autobahn there’s no speed limit for cars. Plenty of opportunity for big speed differentials there. But trucks stay in the right lane, and cars don’t linger in the left lane unless they’re passing.

On the other hand, Great Britain restricted trucks to 40 mph on two-lane highways until 2014, while cars could travel 60 mph. But faster passenger cars crashing while trying to pass the slower trucks led to that being upped to 50 mph, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

You might see this as an argument supporting the idea that slower trucks are unsafe. But that was a 20-mph differential on two-lane roads. Though some states have upped speed limits to 80 (85 on some stretches in Texas), these are generally for rural Interstates, not two-lane highways where passing a slower truck could involve encountering oncoming traffic.

Another objection we’ve heard to mandatory speed limiters is that the majority of crashes are caused by the passenger vehicles, not by heavy trucks. This is a bit akin to a bigger brother arguing, “But he started it!” when parents punish him for fighting with his little brother. Doesn’t matter. You’re bigger, which means it’s not a fair match.

There’s no doubt a speed limiter rule will have repercussions. It will tighten capacity and exacerbate the driver shortage. The agencies acknowledge in their proposal that “in order to compensate for the increased travel time, trucking … companies would need to require current operators drive longer hours (within hours of service limits), hire additional operators, and use team-driving strategies in some cases.” Smaller companies and owner-operators will be the hardest hit. But the trucking companies already operating with speed limiters (and they’re not all mega-fleets) show it can be done successfully.

And most importantly, lives will be saved.


  1. 1. Cliff Downing [ September 16, 2016 @ 03:18AM ]

    I only have issue with speed limiters in regard to passing on two lane roads. Lots of slower than the speed limit autos and farm equipment use those two lane roads in rural areas, and being able to expeditiously get around them and get back into the proper lane is crucial to safety. From a purely business vantage point, the limiter thing is nothing. I typically run around 62 mph in my 100 mph truck, simply because I like keeping more of my money in my wallet and not going up the stacks or paying for tires. The big problem really is drivers. Most of them will press the speed to whatever the truck will go, up to 10 mph over the posted limit. I fail to see how doing this is the only way to be profitable. If your profitability relies so heavily on racing around the countryside, you really need to take a look at who you are hauling for. There is only one category I can even being to cut some slack, and that is livestock haulers. Those animals can die if left on the truck too long. Everyone else, no effective arguments for racing around trying to get pole position at Daytona. And that is why this limiter thing is even a issue. Due to nincompoops who think that liberty doesn't mean responsibility. So you screw with us all.

  2. 2. Randy Harper [ September 16, 2016 @ 03:38AM ]

    What about the 70 mph zones in rural areas? Is there a way to adjust for various states? Do Canadian trucks now turn them off in US?

  3. 3. Kurt [ September 16, 2016 @ 05:23AM ]

    I must question the accuracy of the data. 20 fleets to make a decision to govern all trucks? Chose several professional governed fleets like WalMart and a few ungoverned less than stellar ungoverned fleets, and you have bias. I bet the exact opposite could be found, chose high turnover governed fleets, and some classy safe ungoverned fleets.

  4. 4. Larry S. Engle [ September 16, 2016 @ 06:14AM ]

    The problem that I have with speed limiting is that it creates the 65 mph drag race scenario. I've seen it occur many, many times on I-81 in southern PA. One truck is stuck behind another. The rear truck thinks he can pass, probably because he's in the slipstream and feels stronger. Then he pulls out and has to break the wind on his own. Now he's stuck even with the first truck and maybe can inch along about 1 mph faster. This blocks both lanes and during heavy traffic times creates backlogs that induce aggressive drivers into taking chances, hence increased risk of accidents. As you try to argue Deborah, it doesn't matter "who" causes the accident ... the goal is to avoid the accident. Speed limiters will not help in this regard, in my opinion. A better solution, I believe, would be to utilize a "driver reward" system, e.g. within the truck define a maximum desired operating speed. Inform the driver of this value. Then let the truck track his performance. The more he runs over this goal, the more torque rise is reduced so that he gets penalized. The more he stays at or below the goal, the more full torque he gets for climbing hills or passing. I feel this will encourage the truck to stay in the right lane, but will still let him complete a timely pass when he feels it is prudent.

  5. 5. Joseph G Knudson [ September 16, 2016 @ 10:15AM ]

    This is another example of trying to come up with one solution for a situation with so many variables. One big wild card is drivers. Some drivers are just safer than others. Unsafe drivers in a truck with no limitations can be trouble. The other issue is trying to come up with a solution that works on wide open interstates in the western part of the US and in crowded interstates in urban areas. You can't legislate responsible behavior.

  6. 6. Russ [ September 18, 2016 @ 12:25PM ]

    Bunch of liberal B.S.

  7. 7. Russ [ September 18, 2016 @ 12:28PM ]

    In fact I don't think I'm going to continue reading this magazine.

  8. 8. David D [ September 24, 2016 @ 12:18PM ]

    I'm with Russ.... HDT has become a mouth piece for the ATA... Deborah has been on the side of the ATA, Advertisers, FMCSA. I try not to read her, because I already know where she is with her "better than you" attitude. The fact is "IF" this speed limiter rule was all about safety, there would be limits on ALL VEHICLES. There is no reason to roll a car or motorcycle off the factory line that can produce speeds of 140+++ miles per hour. At those speeds their not being driven, they are bring AIMED..... Safety for one group only in not the answer, anyone saying different has an agenda. You want slower speeds Deborah let's see you put limiters on your car. I'm sure you have no objections, right? No representative for the government should be allowed to drive ANY government vehicle without a limiter on it also, because we have to pay for the Insurance, Fuel, Maintenance and all the lawsuits. Safety is a TWO-WAY Street. Good for one, good for all. I hope drivers keep your feet to the fire Deborah. Your no more of a friend to the drivers' than the FMCSA or the ATA. Deborah is self serving for what's good for Deborah.
    Drivers stand up and be counted or you'll regret doing so. We can stop this nonsense with or without help from anyone. Wakeup drivers...

  9. 9. David D [ September 24, 2016 @ 12:30PM ]

    Here's more food for thought. Several States have allowed an exemption on HOS to haul more Gasoline due to the pipe leak in Alabama (252,000 gallons lost). The Governor's are worried about the price of gas spiking.... it's only risen about .16 (sixteen cents per gallon) so we can run over the HOS to save people less than $5.00 per tank full! Give me a break, this is more proof to make my point. It's all about the dollar, and I'm not talking about our dollars. Theirs' I get really angry when I see safety rules laxed when it benefits them, then if it would help us just finding a place to park when our hours are running out, we must pay a fine and then they attach points to the CSA Scores for three years! Safety is safety, or am I the only person that thinks this way. I've been out here over 37 years. I know a thing or two. Does this make sense to any other drivers?

  10. 10. Linda Caffee [ September 25, 2016 @ 04:26AM ]

    I do not agree with the speed limiters as we all ready run below many speed limits and above the minimum to increase our fuel mileage. Instead of a speed limiter how about informing the speed limits we all ready have? I mile an hour over the posted speed limit is a hefty fine for both cars and commercial vehicles. If need split the speed limits but do not add more regulations to our vehicles.

  11. 11. Pat Hockaday (JoJo) [ September 25, 2016 @ 02:06PM ]

    Part 2
    May I point out that this mandate is not designed to decrease the number of accidents as it will only decrease interstate speeds resulting in less force at impact should the speed limited truck be the vehicle that impacts the other vehicle.
    80% of all auto-truck accidents occur on secondary roads at speeds under 55mph.

    Is the public not aware that most states have eliminated split speed limits AND increased speed limits for all traveling vehicles. 
Are we to assume that these states are unaware of their highway systems ability to support these changes?
    Are we to believe that Safety of the motoring public has not been considered in making these changes?

    If 100% safety is desired then 0% risk may be permitted!
    What price is the consumer willing to pay for having goods on the shelves may need to be asked in order to establish the acceptable risk level.

    Is it morally and ethically correct that Drivers who are acting responsibly in order to earn a living will be penalized financially because autos are not held to higher standards to insure the safety of the motoring public, themselves and their passengers?

    NO, this is an attempt by the ATA cartel to to legally FIX PRICES under the guise of Safety by eliminating their more efficient and safer competition!!!!!
    These mega fleets were once the small guys who fought for deregulation as they claimed to be the ones who were being denied the right to Fair Competition Practices. They have learned from history and now it is they who want to stifle Fair Competition Practices at the expense of the American Tax Payer!!!!!

  12. 12. pat Hockaday (JoJo) [ September 25, 2016 @ 02:57PM ]

    Part 1 “Even small increases in speed have large effects on the force of impact”. As I understand it, autos currently rear end large trucks at a rate of 7 to 1.

    The ATA, in it’s 10/20/06, press release accompanying it’s speed limiter petition recognized that “For the sake of safety, there is a need to slow down all traffic…No vehicle should be capable of operating at excessive speeds on our nations highways.”

    The famous Solomon U shaped curve established that the greater the speed differential from the flow of traffic the greater the chances for an accident.

    Additional research studies have been published through the years that support Solomon’s conclusions, such as the Interstate System Accident Research Study II published by the Bureau of Public Roads (now the FHWA) and the Commercial Motor Vehicle Speed Control Devices published in 1991 by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Both studies confirmed the “U-shape” curve established initially by Solomon.

    I have yet to see any studies that prove the increase in accidents resulting from a greater speed differential in AMERICA will in fact decrease fatalities. Am I to assume that more injuries are acceptable?

    The ATA has concluded based on a review of multiple large-scale, in-depth crash investigation studies, the preponderance of evidence demonstrates that car drivers are primarily responsible for approximately 70% of fatal car-truck crashes.

  13. 13. Bas [ September 27, 2016 @ 12:40PM ]

    Very good example of investigation 100 kph in Europe? Having a set speed of more then 89 kph will result in out of service for most European countries.
    Can't have trucks driving to fast or else you wound have those nice rows of slow trucks on the right lane causing all sort of problems and accidents. But we can't talk about that, that's not politically correct.

  14. 14. ronald hemming [ September 29, 2016 @ 12:32PM ]

    Making all trucks run the same spped is not going to make the road any safer the big accidents that happen are normally involved with goverened and electronic loging device trucks owner operators that are not goverened are not the problem if they receive a lot of speeding tickits than they should be goverend

  15. 15. Deborah Lockridge, Editor [ October 12, 2016 @ 08:13AM ]

    Thanks to everyone for their feedback on this issue. One problem with magazine editorials is I have a limited amount of space, so let me add here that I by no means think the rule as proposed is a perfect solution, and I encourage everyone to share their opinions with FMCSA. You can do this through the Federal eRulemaking Portal at Search for "speed limiting devices" and follow the online instructions for submitting comments.


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