FMCSA Administrator Robin Hutcheson reminded subcommittee members that the agency has not yet actually issued a proposed speed limiter rule.  -  Screen capture of live stream of subcommittee meeting.

FMCSA Administrator Robin Hutcheson reminded subcommittee members that the agency has not yet actually issued a proposed speed limiter rule.

Screen capture of live stream of subcommittee meeting.

If anyone was hoping to get any hints about what might be in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s upcoming proposed rule on truck speed limiters from FMCSA Administrator Robin Hutcheson during a Dec. 13 House subcommittee hearing, they were probably disappointed.

The House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee held a subcommittee hearing to get an update on the implementation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act from witnesses representing the different transportation modes regulated by the Department of Transportation.

Several questions were directed at FMCSA Administrator Robin Hutcheson regarding the agency mandating heavy-truck speed limiters, but they seemed to be more about the representatives giving their opinion than actually looking for real answers.

Other questions that were asked involved the younger-driver apprenticeship pilot program, mandatory automatic emergency braking, and freight/broker fraud.

Oversight of the IIJA (aka the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law)

Highways and Transit Subcommittee Chairman Rick Crawford (R-AR), in his opening remarks, noted that it has been two years since the passage of IIJA, “which provided historic funding increases for America’s infrastructure, including over half a trillion dollars for programs under this subcommittee’s jurisdiction.”

However, he said, inflation has eroded some of the spending power of those funds in the past two years. And he expressed concern that “the administration’s focus should be on enacting the legislation as written, not on pushing progressive policy proposals that didn’t make it into the final law.”

The Truck Speed Limiter Rulemaking Process

More than once, Hutcheson’s response to questions about mandatory speed limiters was to emphasize that the agency is early in the rulemaking process.

FMCSA issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking earlier this year, which received more than 14,000 comments filed for the record. But an ANPRM, in government-speak, is more of an exploratory process with the agency asking for information to help it in developing any rules.

“We’ve not yet determined a speed. We’ve not yet issued a notice of proposed rulemaking,” she said in response to Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA), who interrupted her response to say, “Well, it sounds like you have incomplete information on what the effects are going to be on traffic, on trucks being able to deliver, hours of service and all that, but you’re moving ahead with the mandate, is that correct?”

Hutcheson replied that “the analysis will be published in the regulatory impact analysis and we look forward to sharing that with you when it’s available.”

The most recent DOT Significant Rulemakings Report, issued in September, projected that a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking would be published Dec. 29. However, that is not set in stone.

'Do You Trust Truck Drivers?'

Rep. Eric Burlison (R-MO), said truck drivers already face long days, limited by hours of service rules and having to search for a truck parking spot at the end of the day.

“Now you’re telling them they’ll have to reach their destination at a slower pace,” he said. “Is it smart to mandate the installation of speed limiters when truckers are already heavily regulated? When is enough is enough?

"Many truckers may end up in a situation where they have to make up time and because they have a speed limiter the only place they have to make up time is probably on city streets, suburbs, going through construction zones… are you concerned you’re creating a motivation to reduce safety?”

Hutcheson responded that she has spent a lot of time traveling around the country and talking to drivers about their concerns, riding with drivers on the road, and that FMCSA is working to address concerns such as the compensation structure and detention time.

But in response to his specific question regarding speed limiters, she said, “I’ll say again we are underway in a process of rulemaking; however, we have not yet issued any notice of proposed rulemaking…we’ve not yet…”

Burlison interrupted her and said he encouraged the agency not to implement a speed limiter rule. “I think you would have an outcry from the community,” he said, saying the proposal showed a lack of trust.

“My question is, do you trust truck drivers to be safe on the road?”

Hutcheson responded that “drivers are really at the heart of what we do, and safety is our mission at FMCSA.” She cited examples of the drivers she has met who have millions of miles of safe driving, and drivers competing in the American Trucking Associations’ truck driver championships.

“Then why do we need to implement another rule on them?” Burlison said.

Rep. Jefferson Van Drew (R-NJ), said the speed limiter proposal was overreaching, dangerous and arbitrary, reeking of Big Brother and too much big government.

"Truckers need a range of speed to safely drive on the highway," he said. In the comments on the advanced notice of proposed rulemaking, he said, "drivers give many examples.of situaitons in which they need to accelerate for safety, whether it's merging into highway-speed traffic, getting momentum to get up a hill, or simply keeping up with the speed of traffic…. This policy would take options away from them… we’re tired of this, we’re tired of big government."

Noting the 14,000 comments the agency received (not the 100,000 that Van Drew cited), Hutcheson responded, "We haven’t yet issued a notice of proposed rulemaking. When we do so it will include much of the analysis that you and your colleagues have been asking for here."

Younger Drivers

Some representatives wanted to know why progress has been so slow implementing the pilot program that would evaluate whether 18- to 20-year-olds could operate as safely as older commercial drivers through an apprenticeship program.

It has been well over a year since the FMCSA opened up applications for the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program, and it still has not gotten enough participants for a statistically valid research effort.

Cory Maloy (R-UT) charged that the program has requirements that were not in the IIJA that made it too difficult to qualify.

Hutcheson responded that the agency's responsibility has been safety first, and that it has included safety requirements as directed by Congress.

Rep. Tracey Mann (R-KS) also asked why participation rates are so low and what FMCSA is doing about it.

In talking to potential participants, Hutcheson said, FMCSA officials are "finding very often that stakeholders never knew about it and that means we need to … make sure stakeholders know of this opportunity…. We need to get the word out and we need to do it quickly. Starting in January we are really stepping it up."

Automatic Emergency Braking

Rep. Mike Collins (R-GA), said he is in the trucking business and that automatic emergency braking technology is not yet reliable enough to be mandated. The FMCSA published a proposed rule mandating AEBs for trucks in June.

Saying he owns about 80 trucks with collision mitigation with AEB, "I will tell you they are not bulletproof. They're nowhere near it. ... We all want to be safe; that's why I tried them. But they don’t work perfectly but they’re very expensive. You can't disable them, and you can’t get parts for them right now, so you end up paking the vehicle. You’re pushing standards for technology that is not available."

Collins also weighed in on the speed limiter topic.

"The other thing I want to tell you… we have speed limiters out there, it’s called speed limit signs, they’re enforced by law enforcement.... We get CSA scores monthly; they show us when our drivers get tickets for speeding.

"You know who else looks at that? Our insurance company... The free marketplace works. If a truck driver isn’t insurable due to speeding, he’s let go or she’s let go."

About the author
Deborah Lockridge

Deborah Lockridge

Editor and Associate Publisher

Reporting on trucking since 1990, Deborah is known for her award-winning magazine editorials and in-depth features on diverse issues, from the driver shortage to maintenance to rapidly changing technology.

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