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Federal agencies propose new rule monitoring speed

A new proposal may set speed limits.
/ Industry News & Trends /

By: Phil Sneed

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and National Highway Transportation Safety Administration published a new proposal regarding the monitoring of semitrailer speeds.

In the 118 page document released in late August the agencies proposed speed limits of 60, 65 or 68 mph. In a statement, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx stated that public input would be gathered regarding the speed limit.

If the proposal is finalized in its current state, trucks would be required to be outfitted with electronic monitoring devices. This requirement would apply to newly built vehicles, as well as those with a gross vehicle rating greater than 26,000 lbs.

"The agencies propose speed limits of 60, 65 or 68 mph."

"There are significant safety benefits to this proposed rulemaking," Foxx said. "In addition to saving lives, the projected fuel and emissions savings make this proposal a win for safety, energy conservation, and our environment."

Since the proposal was released jointly, the FMCSA would oversee the implementation of the devices on semitrailers, Fleet Owner reported.

The devices would save approximately $1.1 billion fuel costs every year, while also cutting back fuel consumption.

Proposal meets praise

Trucks.com stated the rule was first proposed in 2006 and won't take effect until 2018 at the earliest. In its current state, the draft is supported by nine of the largest carriers as well as the American Trucking Association.

In a statement, ATA President and CEO Chris Spear hailed the proposal.

"We are pleased NHTSA and FMCSA have, almost 10 years after we first petitioned them, released this proposal to mandate the electronic limiting of commercial vehicle speeds," said Spear. "Speed is a major contributor to truck accidents and by reducing speeds, we believe we can contribute to a reduction in accidents and fatalities on our highways."

In fact, the ATA even adopted a policy in 2006 that set a maximum speed limit of 68 mph and, since then, the organization has actively pushed for regulating speeds. In an interview with Trucks.com, ATA spokesperson Sean McNally said speed is a factor in about 23 percent of all truck crashes.

By setting a speed limit of 68 mph, federal regulators believe between 27 and 96 lives would be saved on an annual basis. At a 65 mph limit, those numbers would increase to between 63 and 214 lives and at 60 mph, 162 to 148 lives saved.

"Carriers who already voluntarily use speed limiters have found significant safety, as well as fuel efficiency and equipment lifespan benefits with little to no negative impact on productivity," added Spear. "We will be carefully reviewing and commenting upon today's proposal."

Rule is criticized

However, not all parts of the transportation industry were quick to offer praise for the rule. If the proposal passes, independent and owner-operators and smaller operators would be the hardest hit, and the federal agencies even made note of this.

According to Fleet Owner, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association opposed the speed limitations by calling them dangerous for passengers and drivers.

"The government's proposal to mandate speed limiting devices on large trucks would be dangerous for all highway users," OOIDA said. "Such devices create speed differentials that lead to more crashes and promote road rage among other motorists."

The agency added that highways are the safest when all vehicles are traveling at the same speed.

There is also some confusion over how the electronic monitoring device will work with older vehicles.

"The big financial burden may be too much for smaller companies to accept."

Another concern from drivers revolves around maneuvers on the highway. For example, a truck may not theoretically be able to pass another truck because of the speed limit. This then creates a rolling roadblock that leads to congestion on the highway. Since the truck can't speed up, other vehicles would have to slow down, and drivers are hesitant to engage in such a maneuver.

Costs also have to be factored in, and the big financial burden may be too much for smaller companies to accept.

Moving forward

In a press release from the U.S. Department of Transportation, NHTSA administrator Mark Rosekind called the proposal basic physics.

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

In the coming weeks, the public is encouraged to provide feedback on the rule. The timetable for a finalized ruling is to be determined, and it could be 2017 until there's an update.