It’s easy to cave to the view that Congress is in permanent gridlock. But Capitol Hill is akin to a perpetual motion machine. Something is always going on, and one action usually begets another — positively or negatively. Legislation is moving up there on Capitol Hill, although the speed of it’s been dialed down thanks to the ongoing crush of hyper-partisanship.
How else to explain a new effort in the House to roll back a yet-to-be-completed rulemaking, one strongly endorsed by key trucking lobbies, that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is diligently developing as it hews to the federal administrative rulemaking process?
The legislation in question, the Deregulating Restrictions on Interstate Vehicles and Eighteen-Wheelers (DRIVE) Act, H.R.3039, was introduced to the House on May 2 by Rep. Josh Brecheen (R-OK). If passed into law, the measure would preemptively strip FMCSA of its power to issue a final rule requiring that Class 7 and 8 trucks “be equipped with a speed limiting device set to a maximum speed.”
Brecheen contended in a press release that the FMCSA proposal has “the potential to negatively impact all facets of the agricultural and trucking industries.” He added that his own experience “driving a semi while hauling equipment, and years spent hauling livestock, that the flow of traffic set by state law is critical for safety instead of an arbitrary one-size-fits-all speed limit imposed by some bureaucrat sitting at his desk in Washington, D.C.”
The bill has five Republican co-sponsors and has been referred to the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit. Where it goes from there is likely nowhere fast. While the legislation may make it to the Republican-led House floor and be approved there. Presumably as a pro-business bill, it might also be defeated by intense lobbying by specific trucking as well as highway-safety advocates. In any event, it would be a tough sell in the Democratic-led Senate, which is not prone to interfering with the process of writing safety regulations.
On the other hand, this bill can also be seen as a placeholder. That is to say, by introducing it now, despite scant chance of passage, the issue remains off the back burner and the legislation itself could be re-introduced the next time Republicans hold sway over both sides of Capitol Hill and have control of the Oval Office.
Trucking groups supporting a new bill
Brecheen’s bill has garnered the staunch support of some trucking associations, chief among them being the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which is concerned speed limiters would result in split speed limits for cars and trucks.
In a press release, OOIDA President Todd Spencer stated, “The physics is straightforward — limiting trucks to speeds below the flow of traffic increases interactions between vehicles and leads to more crashes.”
Other supporters of the DRIVE Act include the Western States Trucking Association and the National Association of Small Trucking Companies, which contended in a statement that “mandating speed limiters on commercial vehicles would increase speed differentials between cars and trucks, increase traffic density, and increase impatience and risky driving by those behind a plodding truck.”
Trucking groups opposing the new bill
Yet there is ample support for letting FMCSA proceed with its speed-limiter rulemaking from trucking’s biggest lobby, the American Trucking Associations, as well as from the Truckload Carriers Association and the Alliance for Driver Safety & Security (The Trucking Alliance), whose board membership consists of prominent truckload carriers.
TCA’s stated position is that “the speed of all electronically governed Class 7 and 8 trucks manufactured after 1992 should be governed by tamperproof devices either limiting the vehicle to a fixed maximum of 65 mph or limiting the vehicle to 70 mph with the use of adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking."
The Trucking Alliance holds that FMCSA “should adopt a safety standard that requires all large trucks not to exceed a reasonable maximum speed. In addition, intelligent Speed Assistance, an emerging technology that enables a driver to briefly override the speed limiter to more quickly pass another vehicle, should also be considered.”
Regarding the proposed DRIVE Act, Lane Kidd, managing director of The Alliance, told HDT, "Regrettably, a few industry organizations have historically opposed most federal safety rules. For example, they opposed electronic logging devices replacing paper logbooks. They opposed a drug and alcohol clearinghouse. They opposed hair drug testing. They opposed automatic emergency braking. And now, they oppose a federal truck speed-limiter rule.
“Excessive speeds create a safety risk,” he continued. “And limiting the maximum speed of an 80,000-pound tractor-trailer rig makes common sense. For that reason, Congress will likely oppose this bill."
The ATA’s policy on speed limiters “supports electronically governing Class 7 and 8 trucks manufactured after 1992 used in commerce by tamperproof devices either limiting the vehicle to a fixed maximum of 65 mph; or limiting the vehicle to 70 mph with the use of adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking.”
ATA President and CEO Chris Spear told HDT, “The easiest position anyone in Washington can take is ‘No.’ It requires little effort, zero facts, and an unwillingness to compromise. ATA isn’t the association of ‘No.’ We put safety first. We deploy the best technology to help save lives.
“In short, we care about the motoring public, and we feel our position on a speed limiter rule is based on data, not baseless rhetoric,” he added. “Driving as fast as you can as long as you like kicks safety to the curb. It’s irresponsible. Safety is a winning issue and ATA enjoys winning. This issue is no exception.”
Look for Release of a “Pre-Rule” on June 30
In its most recent Significant Rulemakings Report, issued last September, FMCSA projected it will issue, by June 30, a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking (SNPRM)—aka a “pre-rule”— on mandating speed-limiting devices on commercial motor vehicles.
Specifically, the SNPRM would propose that vehicles with a GVW rating of 26,001 pounds and above be equipped with an electronic engine control unit (ECU) capable of governing the maximum speed “required to limit the CMV to a speed to be determined by the rulemaking and to maintain that ECU setting for the service life of the vehicle.” The pre-rule also requested public comments and data regarding the adjustment or reprogramming of ECUs, presumably to make them function as speed-limiters.
Seven Years and Counting to Speed Limiters
The original notice of proposed rulemaking on the mandatory speed-limiting of trucks was issued in 2016. However, that proposal was silent on what that limit should be. At the time, the Department of Transportation only said that the NPRM “discusses the benefits of setting the maximum speed at 60, 65, and 68 mph, but the agencies will consider other speeds based on public input.”
Seven years on, and that key aspect has yet to be determined. Nor is it addressed by the current SNPRM — beyond stating that the rulemaking will ultimately set the top speed.