Speed Limiters and You
There is some confusion in when or if the FMCSA and other governmental agencies will pursue speed limiter regulation. Jamie Jones, from Landline Magazine, has this to report on speed limiters. “There are two speed limiter rulemakings pending, one at FMCSA for retro-active activation of speed limiters on existing trucks and one at NHTSA for establishing standards/mandates on newly manufactured trucks. The plan at this point is for the NPRMs (notice of proposed rulemakings) to go to the Office of the Secretary of Transportation for review on May 21; to Office of Management and Budget on June 26; and publishing in the Federal Register on Oct. 1.” It appears that if things go as planned speed limiter regulations are in our very near future, the real question is why.
Trucks have been made for decades with the ability for the truck owner to govern it at whatever speed they think best or is needed for their operation. For instance, the truck I drive is governed at 68 mph; this is what my employer wants his trucks to run for best performance and fuel savings. Few trucks now are not governed at some speed determined by the owner. So having a truck set to a company or owner policy determined speed is not the answer to why speed limiter regulations are needed.
Studies done by states with split speed limits have determined that having differences in speed limits between cars and trucks actually causes more accidents. Illinois for instance has recently changed their speed limits from a split speed limit due to their research and have even raised the overall speed limits to a uniform 70 mph on rural interstates.
State Rep. Jerry Costello II, D-Smithton, sponsored the 70 mph bill in the Illinois House of Representatives. He states, “State statistics show speed disparity, not merely higher speed limits, cause accidents.” Costello cites state records showing a decrease in serious accidents involving semi-trailers after a law allowed the trucks to travel the same speed as cars. Other states too are changing their laws to do away with speed differentials between cars and trucks. With that in mind, it is safer to have all traffic doing the same, or nearly the same speeds, therefore creating an artificial speed differential is not safer; there must be another answer.
When speed limiters first came up here in the US, one of the
things spoken initially about was driver retention; how entry-level drivers
would leave the larger training companies to go to carriers with faster moving
trucks. In an article dated April 2012
on the ATA
website it states, “After a year of quarterly increases, the turnover rate
for truck drivers at large truckload fleets unexpectedly dipped one percentage
point to an annualized rate of 88%” said American Trucking Associations Chief
Economist Bob Costello. “Turnover among
large truckload fleets had risen to 89% in the third quarter of 2011 after
bottoming out at 39% in the first quarter of 2010. For all of 2011, the large
truckload turnover rate averaged 83% - the highest average since 2007 when
churn averaged 117%. At small truckload
firms, with less than $30 million in annual revenue, the turnover rate dipped
to 55% from 57% in the previous quarter. The fourth quarter turnover rate for
less-than-truckload fleets fell to just 7% from 10% in the third quarter.”
This fact is supported by Tim Brady’s article at Trucker.com. Brady states, “Driver turnover usually occurs within the first year of employment. A company may have an overall turnover rate of 60%, but the ”˜newbie flight’ (those first-year hires) can far exceed that—as much as 180% to 240% plus. We’ll define this as driver “churning,” i.e., drivers leaving one carrier and being hired by another. As with most problems, the cause is fairly easy to find; believe it or not, it’s not just about the money.”
A little later in the
debate, it came out that some companies were concerned because they chose to
have their trucks run slower so were losing freight due to other companies with
faster trucks. Leveling the playing
field came into the trucking industries vocabulary. In a 2006 article from Overdrive, right after
the ATA petitioned the FMCSA for speed limiters, Mac McCormick, CEO of Best Way
Express and ATA’s first vice chairman, said the proposal isn’t uniformly
popular, “but it’s the right thing to do.” McCormick adds that a speed limiter was needed
level the playing field. “
guy speeds, that’s a competitive advantage (italics mine), in my mind, at
the expense of the traveling public.”
From the NHTSA, “This rulemaking would respond to petitions from ATA and Roadsafe America to require the installation of speed limiting devices on heavy trucks. In response, NHTSA requested public comment on the subject and received thousands of comments supporting the petitioners’ request. Based on the available safety data and the ancillary benefit of reduced fuel consumption, this rulemaking would consider a new Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard that would require the installation of speed limiting devices on heavy trucks. We believe this rule would have minimal cost, as all heavy trucks already have these devices installed, although some vehicles do not have the limit set. This rule would decrease the estimated 8,991 fatalities caused by crashes involving heavy trucks and buses. It would also increase the fleet fuel efficiency of these vehicles.”
A study requested by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Office of Analysis, Research and Technology and conducted by MaineWay Services of Fryeburg, Maine, was recently released by FMCSA. The speed limiter relevant crash rate for trucks without speed limiters was five crashes per 100 trucks/year compared to 1.4 per 100 trucks/year for trucks with speed limiters. The overall crash rate for trucks without a speed limiter was higher compared with trucks equipped with a speed limiter, 16.4 crashes per 100 trucks/year for trucks without a speed limiter versus 11 crashes per 100 trucks/year for trucks with a speed limiter. The ATA also wants a national speed limit of 65 mph now; they started out at 68 mph in their petition.
It is strange that there is such a difference between the states who are raising their speed limits for trucks to match the speed of cars studies and the FMCSA’s and the NHTSA ’s studies. This also brings in the fact that since the federal 55 mph law that people rebelled over, speed limits are a state’s right issue, not the federal government’s right to determine.
The National Motorists Association has a question and answer section on their website concerning speed limits.
“ Q. Isn’t slower traffic always safer? A. Federal and state studies have consistently shown that the drivers most likely to get into accidents in traffic are those traveling significantly below the average speed. According to research, those driving 10 mph slower than the prevailing speed are more likely to be involved in an accident. That means that if the average speed on an interstate is 70 mph, the person traveling at 60 mph is more likely to be involved in an accident than someone going 70 or even 80 mph.”
Q. Aren't most traffic accidents caused by speeding?
A. No, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) claims that 30 percent of all fatal accidents are "speed related," but even this is misleading. This means that in less than a third of the cases, one of the drivers involved in the accident was "assumed" to be exceeding the posted limit. It does not mean that speeding caused the accident. Research conducted by the Florida Department of Transportation showed that the percentage of accidents actually caused by speeding is very low, 2.2 percent.”
Q. Don't lower speed limits save gas?
A. No, research has shown that the 55-mph National Maximum Speed Limit, which was enacted specifically to save gas, had practically no impact on fuel consumption. This is partly because people do not obey artificially lower speed limits. It is also because the differences in travel speeds that result from unreasonable limits waste gas. Most fuel is used to accelerate to a given speed. Speed limits based on actual travel speeds promote better traffic flow, which reduces the amount of braking and accelerating on our roads. This has a positive effect on fuel consumption.”
However the proposed rulemaking turns out, regulation or not, it does not change the fact that there is no real reason related to safety involved in speed limiters, the exact opposite in fact. Sadly, the result of speed limiting trucks below posted speeds will increase lines of trucks all running the same speeds making it difficult to maneuver around, cause more rear end crashes and possibly increase injuries and fatalities. Mandatory speed limiters have one purpose mentioned above, to level the playing field for economic reasons for some carriers.