WASHINGTON — The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) intends to proceed with a motor carrier-based speed limiter mandate by preparing a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking (SNPRM) that’s scheduled to be released in May.
This is according to the February edition of the Department of Transportation’s Significant Rulemaking Report.
A supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking is a notice and request for comment published in the Federal Register when an agency has made significant substantive changes to a rule between the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and the final rule.
The supplemental notice advises the public of the revised proposal and provides an opportunity for additional comment. It may also be issued if considerable time has elapsed since publication of a notice of proposed rulemaking.
The proposal to require truck owners and fleets to implement an engine control unit — also known as a speed limiter — in all trucks manufactured after 2023 has created somewhat of a stir in the trucking industry.
The FMCSA was expected to make its final ruling on the issue by the end of December 2023, according to Dave Heller, senior vice president of safety and government affairs for the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA). Unfortunately, December came and went without the agency issuing a ruling.
“The timeline, of course, is interesting, as it seems as if the agency always issues its most contentious rulemakings over the holiday season,” Heller said. “That being said, we will be on the lookout for it when it hits the Federal Register so that we can comment appropriately. At this point, we expect the agency to announce what their speed limiter target could be and whether or not they have allowed for some flexibility in the proposal. The ‘set it and forget it’ mentality is long gone, replaced by tech that can be adaptable to drivers and their safety performance.”
Whatever rule ends is issued, not everyone will be happy with it, said TCA Chairman Dave Williams.
“At the end of the day, the rule needs to be simple, and it needs to be soundly based on data and science,” Williams said. “As an industry, we have done a great job over the years improving safety. I do believe, as unpopular in some circles as this may be, that speed limiters will help us get to the next level of safe operations. Rather than speculating further, let’s see what comes out and go from there.”
The FMCSA did not say exactly what number it plans to choose as the governed speed. In September 2023, the agency published information indicating the chosen speed would be 68 mph, but that report was quickly removed. As of this writing, the agency has said nothing else about the matter.
The 2023 proposal is a follow-up to a 2016 joint proposal between the FMCSA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for commercial motor vehicle speed limiters. The 2016 proposal did not gain traction.
During its initial review on the Federal Register as part of a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking, the most recent proposal garnered about 15,000 comments. Many commenters opposed the proposal.
A representative of Beyond Dirt LLC wrote on the comment page: “Limiting speeds in trucks will not make them safer. All it will do is impede traffic in places where the truck speed limit is higher, making driving a truck more dangerous for the truck driver because the cars around it will be making aggressive maneuvers to get around it. This law is an overreach, if there is a problem with a few trucks speeding, you need to use the state patrol to in force the speed limit on those law-breaking drivers and not make this job more dangerous for the rest of us.”
Heller counters this argument, saying: “The reality is that this assumption can be used for just about any speed — 45, 55, or 65. Wouldn’t that be the same concern on roads that have a speed limit of 25 mph? It is the ‘get out of the way’ theory that likely causes problems on the road in the first place. Speed limiters, coupled with new safety technology, will only serve to help improve the industry and its safety record.”
Speed limiters can improve fuel efficiency, which is better for both the environment and a carrier’s bottom line. Greater fuel efficiency means lower CO2 emissions and fewer stops to fuel up, resulting in lower operational costs for carriers.
Limiters can help reduce the severity of crashes and can even help prevent some crashes in the first place, making the roads safer for everyone. However, limiters also have the potential to create longer travel times depending on how the maximum allowed speed relates to mandated speed limits.
Above all, Heller said, the trucking industry will need flexibility when looking at speed-governing devices.
“It is fair to point out that we don’t just support a limit of 65 mph on Class 7-8 rigs,” Heller said. “We also support raising that number to 70 mph if the truck has other safety improvement technology such as adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking. Speed has been noted as a primary factor in fatal crashes that involve commercial trucks, and we continue to emphasize the use of technology that will help make our roads safer.”
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.