Many in the trucking industry are waiting with bated breath for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) final ruling on speed limiters for commercial big rigs. The comment period on the speed limiter proposal ended in July 2022 with more than 15,000 respondents — most opposed to the measure.
However, the FMCSA is moving forward with the rule, and it could be finalized as early as this summer, according to the Unified Regulatory Agenda.
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 set a maximum speed at this time.
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.”
As companies, individuals, and organizations on both sides argue their cases, the wheels of government continue to grind — well below the posted “speed limit.”
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.