The Department of Transportation (DOT) today proposed rules requiring that devices be installed on all new heavy-duty vehicles to limit the speeds that the vehicles could travel on U.S. roads.
The proposal, jointly drafted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), both DOT sub-agencies, would set a maximum speed based on public comment from stakeholders. Based on the sub-agencies' comments, it would appear that the maximum speed would be set at 60 miles per hour, 65 miles per hour, or 68 miles per hour.
According to the two sub-agencies, limiting the speeds of heavy vehicles—which include motor carriers, buses, and school buses—to 60 mph would save between 162 and 498 lives per year. Limiting the speeds to 65 mph would save 63 to 214 lives each year, while setting the limit at 68 mph would save 27 to 96 lives per year, the sub-agencies said.
Requiring speed limiters to be set at between 60 and 65 mph would result in $848 million in annual fuel savings and carbon-emission reductions, the sub-agencies said. A setting of 68 mph would save about $376 million a year, according to the proposal.
Under the proposal, truckers would be required to maintain the speed-limiting devices for what the sub-agencies called the "service life" of the vehicle.
According to the sub-agencies, even a small increase in vehicle speed can have a large effect on the force of impact. As a vehicle accelerates, so does the amount of "kinetic energy" it contains. However, a vehicle's kinetic energy will increase exponentially relative to its speed. The force-multiplier effect is especially extreme in the case of a tractor-trailer because of its large mass, according to the proposal.
Over the years, many large trucking firms have voluntarily installed speed limiters in their vehicles. One of those firms, Schneider National Carriers Inc., the Green Bay, Wis.-based truckload and logistics concern, has set its limiters at a maximum speed of 65 mph since 1996. Schneider had found that trucks without speed-limiting devices accounted for 40 percent of the company's serious collisions, even though they only drove 17 percent of the company's miles, the sub-agencies noted in their proposal.
The American Trucking Associations (ATA), which represents large trucking firms, first proposed a 68 mph ceiling on new trucks in 2006. Today, ATA hailed the proposal as an important step toward reducing "accidents and fatalities on our highways."
In a statement, Chris Spear, ATA's new president and CEO, said truckers that have installed speed limiters "have found significant safety, as well as fuel-efficiency and equipment-lifespan benefits with little to no negative impact on productivity." He did not elaborate. The sub-agencies, for their part, said there could very well be a cost imposed on the supply chain by delivery delays caused by drivers operating at slower-than-normal speeds.
By contrast, the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), which represents owner-operators and micro-fleets that comprise about 95 percent of U.S. truckers, called the move a threat to public safety, because it takes away decision-making and control of a vehicle from its driver. For example, a limiter could prevent a driver from being able to temporarily accelerate to avoid a potentially deadly situation, OOIDA said.
"No technology can replace the safest thing to put in a truck, which is a well-trained driver," said Todd Spencer, an OOIDA vice president.