WASHINGTON, Nov. 23, 2016 - Electronic governors keeping top speeds at 60, 65 or 68 miles per hour in all heavy trucks and buses? Soon, perhaps.
The U.S. Department of Transportation is pressing ahead with a long-contemplated requirement for speed limiting gadgets, or chokers, in all new Class 7 and 8 trucks (26,000 pounds gross weight rating), and possibly for trucks already in use, including vehicles moving livestock and farm commodities. The American Trucking Associations (ATA), representing trucking company owners, and the safety advocating Road Safe America (RSA) asked in 2006 for gear in all heavy highway vehicles to impose a 68 mph cap, and DOT agreed in 2011 that it would propose such a requirement.
Now, six years later, DOT has issued its proposal, and more than 3,700 individuals and organizations have submitted comments pro and con, but most often critical or outright opposed. The agency considered speed limiters for trucks 25 years ago, when the nation had a 55 mph speed limit for all vehicles on the highways, but decided there was little justification for the added equipment. A lot has changed since, DOT points out in its summary: a lot more trucks on the roads, and improved technology and economy of speed limiting devices. Plus more speed: 35 states have highway speed limits of 70 mph or higher (Texas, 85 mph). The proposal projects that imposing a 68 mph maximum for big trucks would save up to 96 traffic deaths a year; a 65 mph maximum, up to 214 lives; a 60 mph limit, up to 500 lives.
The ATA doesn’t plan to submit its own comments until DOT’s Dec. 7 deadline, a spokesman said. But it and many of its member companies have looked kindly on the idea of highway speed-limiting devices, even though they can slow deliveries. They say reducing speed saves fuel, reduces accident frequency, extends the life of brakes, tires, and engines, and ends up reducing truckers’ liability insurance. Still, ATA President Chris Spear says, whichever of the optional speeds may be proposed, highways should have uniform speed limits and the agency must “take the danger of differential speeds for cars and trucks into account.”
Cynthia Hilton, executive vice president of the Institute of Makers of Explosives, says DOT “should consider allowing various maximum speed limitations based on operating conditions.” That is necessary especially, she says, because so many states have highway speed limits for all vehicles that are faster than the proposed 65 mph cap for big trucks, which she said is the velocity DOT appears to favor in its proposal. Technology in such devices would allow drivers, for example, to adjust their maximum speeds to 10 mph less than the 80-85 mph speed limits in force on some states’ routes, she said.
Few farm and ag commodity groups have shown an interest in the proposal, though speed limiting devices will, of course, apply to a lot of farm commodity hauling, especially if DOT applies the mandate to existing trucks. In comments on behalf of the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation, Holly L.M. Kennedy said any of the proposed truck speed maximums would add to collisions in that state, which has an 80 mph highway cap for all vehicles. The agency “did not thoroughly address unintended consequences or its full implications. This rule, if implemented, would drastically decrease safety for both passenger and commercial vehicles,” she said.
Also, the mandate might be retroactive. RSA points out: “All heavy commercial trucks manufactured since 1992 come equipped with electronic speed governors as standard equipment so there is no capital expense” for speed control devices. Note, though, that DOT suggests the devices it would require may include additional features, such as electronic recording of when the device is switched on and off.
Comments to DOT, however, show a lot of opposition by drivers, independent truckers and some trucking firm owners who just don’t want more regulation. Ron Stallbaumer, of Gill, Colorado, an independent trucker who has hauled cattle, hogs and sheep for 40 years, told Agri-Pulse he believes DOT will impose the speed limiting gear, though he thinks it is unnecessary and won’t improve safety. The point of DOT’s proposal “is not whether it works or not,” he says, “It’s about control, that’s all it is . . . it’s what the lefties think you should do. I’ve got one more year to retirement, and if they start shoving crap like that down our throats, then I am just going to retire.”
Don Jordan, a retired Frito Lay Transportation truck driver in Silver Lake, Kansas, told DOT: “Most states have replaced the split car-truck speed limits for safety reasons. Why go back to that? It creates the safety problem of vehicles approaching slower trucks too quickly before the drivers recognize the hazard . . . I know firsthand of … all the unsafe actions of other drivers trying to get around us. So many times we were a rolling road block, especially with the huge vision barrier we present. Please don’t go back to those days.”
Meanwhile, a Mississippi trucking boss, signing in at DOT, takes an opposing view: “As an owner of a small trucking company (80 trucks), the fear of a serious and or fatal accident is always on my mind. My company trucks are governed at 65 mph and have been for years. Our owner operator trucks are not governed, however … seeing a truck traveling in excess of the speed limit bothers me …. because I realize how dangerous 80,000 pounds is when traveling at a high rate of speed. All of this hogwash about causing accidents due to a variance in speed is just that: hogwash. No truck should be traveling over 65 mph … It’s a no-brainer.”
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