WASHINGTON — December came and went without the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issuing a ruling on its proposal to add speed limiters to most commercial vehicles.
Now, it’s unclear how long it will take.
Significant rulemakings must be reviewed by the White House Office of Management and Budget before they can be published. That didn’t happen in 2023.
Meanwhile, many in the trucking industry have been waiting with bated breath — and uncertain accelerator foots — for answers.
The comment period on the speed limiter proposal ended in July 2022 with more than 15,000 respondents — most opposed to the measure.
The Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) has spoken out in favor of speed limiters, publishing this stance 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.”
TCA recently sent a survey about the speed limiter issue to carrier members in its Regulatory Policy Committee, Advocacy Advisory Committee, and carrier benchmarking network (TCA Profitability Program).
Only one respondent said their fleet does not currently use speed-limiting technology, citing a high prevalence of owner-operators. The rest of the carriers responding shared that they do currently use speed limiters, and that the devices are set anywhere from 62 to 72 mph; the majority of these fleets said they set the limiters within the upper 60s.
The majority of respondents to TCA’s survey said they are comfortable with a 2003 model year requirement (the year floated in the list of questions provided by FMCSA for the comment period).
The American Trucking Associations (ATA) has also spoken out in support of speed limiters.
According to an ATA statement, the group supports the use of tamper-proof electronic governors, or limiters, on heavy trucks that were manufactured after 1992 and are used in commerce. The association has also opined that the U.S. Department of Transportation should conduct a recurring five-year review of speed-governing regulations to ensure the regulations are appropriate and consistent with currently deployed technologies.
“We put safety first,” said Chris Spear, ATA’s president and CEO. “We deploy the best technology to help save lives. In short, we care about the motoring public, and we feel our position on a speed limiter rule is based on data, not baseless rhetoric. Driving as fast as you can as long as you like kicks safety to the curb. It’s irresponsible. Safety is a winning issue, and ATA enjoys winning. This issue is no exception.”
Meanwhile, a Republican congressman from Oklahoma has introduced new legislation that would prevent speed limiters from being required. Rep. Josh Brecheen introduced the Deregulating Restrictions on Interstate Vehicles and Eighteen-Wheelers (DRIVE) Act on May 2.
In a news release, Brecheen said the speed limiter mandate “would negatively impact both the agricultural and trucking industries and include vehicles like semi-trucks, livestock trailer/truck combos, grain trucks, and other large commercial vehicles.” He described the mandate as an “overreach by the Biden administration.”
Brecheen is no stranger to the trucking industry.
“I know from experience, driving a semi while hauling equipment and years spent hauling livestock, that the flow of traffic set by state law is critical for safety instead of an arbitrary one-size-fits-all speed limit imposed by some bureaucrat sitting at his desk in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “This rule will add one more needless burden, and Congress must stop it. For example, if a rancher is transporting cattle in a trailer across state lines, under this rule, the federal government would require a speed limiter device when above 26,000 pounds. Out-of-control bureaucrats are trying to impose ridiculous regulations on Americans who are trying to make ends meet.”
FMCSA’s proposed rule to require speed limiters on commercial vehicles with a gross weight over 26,000 pounds will add extra transportation costs to the private sector and make roads less safe, Brecheen contends, noting that one study found that “the frequency of interactions by a vehicle traveling 10 mph below the posted speed limit was found to be 227% higher than a vehicle moving at traffic speed.”
The FMCSA has not said what the maximum speed will be, although it quickly pushed back from a report that the speed is 68 mph.
A spokesperson said that limit was only “an option.”
Groups in support of Brecheen’s legislation include the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, the Western States Trucking Association, the Livestock Marketing Association, the National Association of Small Trucking Companies (NASTC) and the Towing and Recovery Association of America.
“The physics is straightforward: Limiting trucks to speeds below the flow of traffic increases interactions between vehicles and leads to more crashes,” said OOIDA President Todd Spencer. “OOIDA and our 150,000 members in small business trucking across America thank Congressman Brecheen for his leadership in keeping our roadways safe for truckers and for all road users.”
NASTC President David Owen also spoke out for the DRIVE Act.
“Mandating speed limiters on commercial vehicles would increase speed differentials between cars and trucks, increase traffic density and increase impatience and risky driving by those behind a plodding truck,” Owen said. “Mandatory speed limiters would likely cost more lives and cause more accidents and injuries. NASTC commends the DRIVE Act for stopping a predictable regulatory disaster.”
Big rigs whiz down Interstate 30 in Saline County, Arkansas, day and night, creating a steady roar that has become a symbol of the area’s commerce.
Mona Sims, a local truck driver who lives in nearby Bauxite, Arkansas, grew up near this interstate and said she couldn’t wait to hit the road in an 18-wheeler. When asked about the speed limiter proposal, Sims, who has been a professional truck driver for 18 years, said she’s given it a lot of thought — but she can’t support it.
“I just think it’s dangerous territory,” Sims said. “I am an independent driver, and this just feels like more government overreach to me. I am a safe driver. I follow all the laws. Why do we need more rules?”
Ralph Sanders drives for a large trucking company. He says he hates the governor that’s been put on his rig by the corporation. It’s limited to 65 mph, and he says it’s often put him into tough positions on the road.
“If I need to get up some speed on a hill or to pass, I can’t,” he said. “I understand it’s about safety, but I think we should at least have 80 miles an hour on these trucks in case we need that extra speed.”
In all, 12 professional truck drivers The Trucker recently surveyed at a Pilot along Interstate 30 all said they were against the proposal.
Two others pledged support for it.
Company driver Paul Gibbons said set speeds can save lives.
“I am all for it, because you get hot shots out there who want to break the law and go as fast as they can, especially in bad weather,” Gibbons said. “If you get these hot heads rigs that can only go, say, 65 mph, they will cool down real quick. We need cooler heads out here on these interstates.”
Rachel Kessler says she supports speed limiters to help save fuel.
“I am an independent driver, but I always drive 65,” she said. “It’s better on my fuel, and it may just help save a little bit of the environment. I know that isn’t a popular subject in this industry, but we need to all do what we can, even if it’s just driving a couple miles slower an hour.”
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.