Speed Limiters for Large Commercial Trucks Might be Back on the Agenda

In August of 2016, the federal government proposed regulations to require that large commercial trucks be equipped with speed limiters. The proposed regulation did not set firm top speeds, but suggested the limiters could be set at 60, 65, or 68 miles per hour. All of those speeds are below – often well below – the top interstate highway speed limits across the nation. Only Hawaii has a top speed limit as low as 60, while many states have top limits of 80 miles per hour, and most have top speed limits of 70 or 75 on non-urban interstates. Just a few months after the regulations were proposed, Donald Trump was elected president and began an effort to reduce regulations. Speed limiter regulations died on the vine.

Speed-Limiter Regulations May Undergo a Revival Soon

The trucking industry at large considers it likely that the Biden administration will impose further regulations rather than eliminating them, making it a decent bet that speed limiters for large commercial trucks will be back on the regulatory table. One industry publication considers regulations on speed limiters among the most likely to be brought back to the table under the new administration.

If a pair of members of the House of Representatives get their way, that could happen sooner rather than later. The members, one Republican and one Democrat, re-introduced legislation first put forward in 2019, that would require that regulations be imposed mandating that new large commercial trucks be equipped with speed limiters. Further, the legislation calls for regulations requiring that truckers turn on any speed-limiting devices already installed in vehicles built after 1992 when operating such vehicles. The legislation calls for speed limiters to keep truck speeds to 65 miles per hour unless the truck also has identified safety technologies, in which case the top speed could be 70 miles per hour. The prospects for the legislation, introduced May 25, are unclear at the moment, although no such legislation is necessary for one of the relevant agencies to put forward new regulations.

The Pros-and-Cons Debate Continues

When the federal Department of Transportation last introduced speed-limiter regulations in August 2016, it had conducted a study of potential safety and cost-saving advantages of the proposed regulations. The study claimed that limiting truck speeds would save more than $1 billion in fuel each year. It also claimed that limiting truck speeds to 60 miles per hour would save up to nearly 500 lives, setting truck limits at 65 mph would result in more than 200 fewer road deaths, and speed limiters holding trucks to 68 miles per hour would save almost 100 lives per year. The conclusions were based in part on the fact that accidents involving commercial trucks account for 18% of fatal traffic accidents, with the primary cause cited in the majority of those accidents being excessive speed.

Opponents, naturally, take a different view, contending that the positive results cited in the federal study are neither guaranteed nor without unintended consequences that cause other problems. Opposition groups point out that speed limiters would essentially create different speed limits for different vehicles on highways, leading to congestion and bottlenecks. When vehicles are not all traveling at roughly the same speed on a highway, the result often is traffic jams where none need exist. Further, such regulations would cost truckers the ability to drive an extra 55 miles per day, costing drivers – paid by the mile – up to more than $85 per day, or more than $22,000 per year, with the impact felt most by smaller trucking operations and independent drivers.

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