The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is moving forward on rulemaking procedures that would require speed limiters in nearly all heavy trucks. Speed limiters restrict commercial trucks and buses from exceeding a predetermined speed and are widely employed around the world to enhance traffic safety. However, the United States has been slow to follow. That may soon change because besides cost there is little keeping the proposed legislation from becoming law. It is widely backed by trucking interests, safety advocates, and private individuals alike.
The American Trucking Associations (ATA) and Road Safe America (RSA) both petitioned NHTSA in 2006 to consider new rules that would set speed limiters at 68 mph in heavy trucks. ATA wanted the limiters installed in all new trucks, while RSA advocated the limiters in all trucks built after 1990. ATA later modified its petition, asking that the limiters be installed in all heavy trucks made after 1992, which would cover nearly all the heavy trucks on the road.
After it opened the proposal to comments, NHTSA received nearly 4,000 opinions from contributors ranging from individuals to large commercial trucking operations. Heavy Duty Trucking magazine noted that one of the comments came from J.B. Hunt Transport, a commercial trucking company that already limits its trucks and supports the proposed rules. The company said that the speed differential limiters create on the highway isn’t as dangerous as speeding.
Another comment came from fleet owner Schneider National, which also uses speed limiters in its trucks. According to Heavy Duty Trucking, “Schneider reported that before it installed speed limiters in 1996, trucks without limiters accounted for 40 percent of the company’s serious collisions while driving 17 percent of its total miles.”
While a number of commercial trucking companies joined Road Safe America in its petition for speed limiters, not all supported the proposed rule. The Truckload Carriers Association and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) both cited the speed differential as their reason for opposing the use of limiters. OOIDA also cited cost as a reason for its opposition.
According to Heavy Duty Trucking, research has shown that limiters reduce the severity of crashes. Speed limiters have been in use in many places around the globe for some time. Australia limited its trucks to 62 mph in 1990. The European Union set trucking speeds at 62 mph in 1994. Japan limited trucks to 56 mph in 2003. Canada moved forward with a 65-mph speed limit for trucks in 2009, citing safety, economic, and environmental benefits that the reduced speed generated.