All That's Trucking

Speed Limiters Redux

October 12, 2016

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I expected that my recent editorial supporting mandatory speed limiters for commercial trucks would result in a fair number of letters from readers who disagreed, and I was right.

One problem with magazine editorials is I have limited space to explore an issue fully. Let me say that the proposal as written has a long way to go. But that’s why FMCSA publishes proposals and asks for comments — it needs real world input.

Just to pull one theme from the comments: There’s a valid concern here about the dangers of both cars and trucks having too big a speed differential, yet at the same time the dangers of trucks all being set at too similar a speed.

One solution, which American Trucking Associations AND at least one of my commenters who complained about the big-business lobbyists pushing this rule (by which I assume he means ATA), is to limit the speed of ALL vehicles.

While the association has supported mandatory speed limiters for years, at its recent Management Conference & Exhibition, ATA’s new president and CEO slammed the current proposal and called for a lower national speed limit to help reduce issues with speed differentials.

Meanwhile, one thing I’d like the FMCSA to explore is the use of technology to offer some variability in limiters based on factors such as the posted speed limit, or average speed of traffic in the region.

I believe mandatory speed limiters are coming. Just last week, the DOT and other agencies announced an initiative to eliminate traffic deaths altogether within 30 years. But it’s up to the industry to share the insight the agency needs to write a final rule that makes highways safer and doesn’t do the opposite.

I’ve shared a sampling of the comments I’ve received below. But I encourage everyone: Don’t just tell me. Let the FMCSA hear your concerns on this proposal. You can do this through the Federal eRulemaking Portal at http://www.regulations.gov/ Search for "speed limiting devices" and follow the online instructions for submitting comments.

My favorite email came from a CDL holder and manager of a small fleet, who has driven as a company driver in a governed truck and been and owner-operator. He said, “you do have some valid points,” but shared some excellent thoughts. Some excerpts:

“My brother (non truck driver) from small town USA drives 5 mph under the speed limit (says it’s safer) but in Atlanta he is a road hazard causing other driver’s to make high speed lane changes in heavy traffic (bad mix, an accident looking for a place to happen).

“If you ever watch a NASCAR race they go out of their way to make [parity] between the vehicles racing, so they stay bunched up … but when one wrecks many more vehicles are involved… Same thing happens on America’s highways. You can have five trucks set up exactly the same (mfg, motor & transmission, governed/speed limited the same), but you add a driver (not all the same driving personality) and different load weights (affect attainable road speeds) and what you have is a rolling traffic jam. If they are going the same direction on a hilly road or interstate, before you know it someone will be a risk taker to get around the line of trucks.

“What is needed is greater vehicle separation like in New Jersey, where cars and trucks are separated by a wall … Maybe add more lanes of roadway with lane restrictions as for type of vehicle that can use them.

“The U.S. is not like Europe where most countries are smaller than most states. In Europe speed/mph/distance is not a factor if a load is or is not delivered or not, unlike the U.S. Most truck drivers in Europe are not paid by the mile. [Because of per-mile pay] limiting speed on a trucks also impacts a driver’s earning ability…

“If they really want to make the highways safer they need to address vehicle separation and driver pay…

“Simply limiting speed may not add any more safety to the roadway/highways but have the opposite effect, causing companies to add more trucks (more congestion) to move the same amount of freight in the same amount of time. What 10 trucks do now might take 11 or 12 to do.”

And a sampling from some of the other emails and comments:

“My 69-year-old father was forced off of the road by a [speed-limited] Swift truck [that] just kept on going…. those speed limited trucks that can't keep up with traffic are always getting passed. So every on ramp onto the Interstate is an accident waiting to happen because they are always getting passed. I have driven a speed limited truck for ABF and I felt relieved every time I made it past an on ramp.... I'm not advocating speeding. When I'm not in traffic I usually run 68 in a 70 to save fuel. But I see the problems these trucks make on traffic because there is such a differential in speed there is always congestion in places there shouldn't be. But as you know to negotiate traffic, you have to be going close to the same speed. I think there should be a national speed limit and every vehicle cars and all be limited to that speed to stop the differentials. For instance all vehicles at 70.”

"While the governments’ proposal to fit speed limiters seems at first to be innocuous - I think it’s crucial to keep in mind that (like any regulations) - once it’s in place it provides the means to just continue foisting additional limitations and restrictions onto the vehicle and driver. Best overall to not let them get a foot in the door."

"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."

“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 U.S. and in crowded Interstates in urban areas. You can't legislate responsible behavior."

Comments

  1. 1. Rich Pocsi Sr. Owner RNR [ October 14, 2016 @ 05:01AM ]

    If the idea is to limit trucks at 65 mph to end traffic deaths then when California made there truck speed 55 mph why has traffic deaths gone up ?

  2. 2. Cliff Downing [ October 14, 2016 @ 05:22AM ]

    The common refrain is that limiting speed will limit ability to earn. Not convinced of that. For a couple of decades minimum out of the over 3 I have been in this game, I have generally run in the 60-65 mph range, even though my trucks have been capable of triple digit speeds. Running at these slower speeds has not been a negative. I don't do it under the guise of some safety thing, I do it purely out of economics. Why run faster to make an extra $10,000 a year, when I can operate more sensibly and save over $10,000 per year? I would much rather net more out of every dollar earned than just chase more dollars and net less per dollar and end up roughly the same. Even from a company driver standpoint, the better fleets have reward systems in place to provide more income to a company driver who saves the company money by operating more moderately. So the ruse that one has to drive with their hair on fire to make a living is an overblown perception. if they do, then maybe they need to look at another carrier or try another line of work.

 

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Deborah Lockridge

Editor-in-Chief

All That's Trucking blog is just that – the editor's take on anything and everything related to trucking, with the help of guest posts from other HDT editors. Author Deborah Lockridge's career as an award-winning trucking journalist started in 1990.

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