WASHINGTON — The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) wants to install speed limiters on commercial vehicles (CMVs) operating across the country, according to a recent notice of intent filing.
But before that can happen, the agency has to initiate a public comment session, which will begin after the notice is officially published in the Federal Register. As of this writing, it has not been filed but is expected to appear within the next few days.
The agency will use those comments as part of its rulemaking process.
The notice does not give a specific speed limit to be set; however, it does state that “the agency is considering making the rule only applicable to CMVs manufactured after a certain date, such as 2003, because this is the population of vehicles for which ECUs (electronic engine control units) were routinely installed and may potentially be used to govern the speed of the vehicles.”
Additionally, the rule, if adopted, would affect CMVs “in interstate commerce with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) or gross vehicle weight (GVW) of 11,794 kilograms or more (26,001 pounds or more), whichever is greater, that are equipped with ECUs capable of governing the maximum speed be required to limit the CMV to a speed to be determined by the rulemaking and to maintain that ECU setting for the service life of the vehicle.”
The move is a follow-up to a 2016 joint proposal between the FMCSA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for CMV speed limiters.
“The National Roadway Safety Strategy identified speed as a major factor in fatal crashes, and speed management as a primary tool to reduce serious injuries and fatalities,” the FMCSA notice states. “FMCSA envisions the rule as a commonsense approach to reducing crashes and saving lives as the agency continues to work with drivers and advocates for the CMV community towards a goal of zero lives lost on our nation’s roadways.”
The notice further states that the FMCSA “is moving forward with this rulemaking because of concerns about the number of CMV crashes and fatalities traveling at high speeds. In 2019 alone, there were nearly 900 fatal crashes in areas with posted speed limits over 70 miles per hour.”
Reaction from the trucking industry came swiftly.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) criticized the plan in a news release.
An OOIDA statement said policies and devices that limit speeds for large trucks “create unnecessary congestion and dangerous speed differentials among vehicles, which lead to higher accident involvement rates.”
“Studies and research have already proven what we were all taught long ago in driver’s ed classes, that traffic is safest when vehicles all travel at the same relative speed,” said OOIDA President Todd Spencer. “Limiting trucks to speeds below the flow of traffic increases interactions between vehicles which can lead to more crashes.”
“This is just too much. You got big Washington people who think they know how to drive these trucks. Hell, they can’t even start one, much less drive one. Yet they are gonna tell us how to run on the highway? It’s crap man. Total crap.”
— C. Jenkins, independent owner-operator
Additionally, most crashes involving CMVs occur in areas with speed limits below 55 mph, mitigating the effect of any potential mandate, the OOIDA news release stated.
“What the motoring public should know is that when they are stuck behind trucks on long stretches of highway, those trucks are often limited to a speed well under the posted speed limit,” Spencer said.
Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) Vice President of Government Affairs David Heller wrote on TCA’s website that TCA staff “will review the notice and consult with our Regulatory Policy Committee in order to submit comments by the deadline…. We look forward to working with our members and FMCSA leadership to help craft a final rule that reflects TCA’s policy on speed limiters.”
TCA adopted the following stance on speed limiters in April 2021:
“The speed of all electronically governed Class 7 and 8 trucks manufactured after 1992 should be governed by tamperproof devices either limiting the vehicle to a fixed maximum of 65 mph or limiting the vehicle to 70 mph with the use of adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking. The Department of Transportation should conduct a recurring five-year review of speed-governing regulations to ensure that the regulations are appropriate and consistent with currently deployed technologies. Although TCA does not have a position on setting speed limiters or engine control modules (ECMs) for passenger vehicles, it recommends states consider setting the speed limiters on the vehicles of drivers with certain driving convictions.”
Chris Spear, president of the American Trucking Associations (ATA), said the ATA supports FMCSA’s proposal.
“ATA is pleased that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is pursuing a constructive, data-driven approach to the issue of truck speed limiters in its latest proposal,” Spear wrote in a news release.
“We intend to thoroughly review FMCSA’s proposal, and we look forward to working with the agency to shape a final rule that is consistent with our policy supporting the use of speed limiters in conjunction with numerous other safety technologies,” he said.
There are some companies that have been using speed limiters on their rigs for years.
Walmart, for example, sets the top speed of its rigs at 65 mph.
Gary Garrison, president of Allstar Fuel, which operates a dozen 18-wheelers and a handful of bobtail trucks out of fuel outlets in the Texas cities of Plainview, Graham and Wichita Falls, recently told MyPlainView.com that one of the main reasons for speed limiters is safety.
“If you are involved in collisions, the slower speed does have a safety element,” he said, adding that accident avoidance is increased as slower speeds as well.
But “maybe the bigger reason is fuel conservation,” Baker added of Walmart’s 65 mph max.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy website, gas mileage usually decreases rapidly at speeds above 60 mph.
“You can assume that each 5 mph you drive over 60 mph is like paying an additional $0.29 per gallon for gas,” the website states.
Fleet driver Sandy Griffin, who works for a company she preferred not to name, has been dealing with speed limiters for the past several years.
“It took some getting used to, for sure,” Griffin said. “Ours are set to 65, so it does make it harder to pass vehicles when you need to. It takes a little extra planning. Overall, I don’t mind it, though.”
Other drivers scoffed at the thought of speed limiters.
“I’d quit,” said truck driver Ray Simmons, who lives in Arkansas and works for a company that does not have speed limiters in its rigs.
“Nobody should tell me how to drive this rig. If I am driving a rig for you, I am a professional driver. Let me do my own thing,” he continued. “They ain’t out there on the road with me. I am out there, and I don’t need anybody telling me how to drive.”
Independent owner-operator C. Jenkins, who lives in Tennessee and has a small fleet of dry vans, said the government is overreaching.
“This is just too much,” Jenkins said. “You got big Washington people who think they know how to drive these trucks. Hell, they can’t even start one, much less drive one. Yet they are gonna tell us how to run on the highway? It’s crap man. Total crap.”
HOW FMCSA RULES ARE SET
First, an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking is issued. This is an optional step in which the FMCSA publishes any data it has on the issue at hand and asks for public opinion and comments. The FMCSA may also create a board of affected parties to help the agency craft rules that are agreeable to all parties.
Second, the agency publishes the full proposed rule in the Federal Register, which is essentially a government newsletter. In the posting, the FMCSA also includes the reasoning behind the new rule and instructions on how the public can respond with their opinions.
Next comes the public comment period, during which private individuals, corporations and trade associations may post input concerning the proposed rule.
After that comes the final rule. The FMCSA usually makes minor changes to the proposed rule before it is added to the federal code. The Department of Transportation is then tasked with enforcing it.
Born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and raised in East Texas, John Worthen returned to his home state to attend college in 1998 and decided to make his life in The Natural State. Worthen is a 20-year veteran of the journalism industry and has covered just about every topic there is. He has a passion for writing and telling stories. He has worked as a beat reporter and bureau chief for a statewide newspaper and as managing editor of a regional newspaper in Arkansas. Additionally, Worthen has been a prolific freelance journalist for two decades, and has been published in several travel magazines and on travel websites.