Federal regulators working on a proposal that would create a nationwide truck speed limit using electronic engine devices last week extended the comment period on the controversial move by six weeks, to July 18.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has already received more than 15,500 comments. It has been so inundated that it extended the deadline after receiving requests for the extension from the American Trucking Associations and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA). The two groups are on opposite sides of the polarizing speed limiter debate.
Top trucking officials of national and multi-regional carriers by and large support the plan. But OOIDA is expected to announce its long-standing opposition to any mandatory devices to limit speed. OOIDA calls so-called “split” speed limits between heavy trucks and autos a bad idea.
That’s where owner-operators largely differ from large, established, multi-state trucking companies—including some of the safest fleets in the land.
“I think it’s a good idea and so does our safety group,” Chuck Hammel, president of Pitt Ohio, the nation’s 15th-largest LTL carrier, told LM.
Pitt Ohio has won the prestigious ATA President’s Trophy in the Over 100 Million Miles category for truck safety multiple times. This marks the seventh time PITT OHIO has received this award; winning every year the company has been eligible.
“We have had speed limiters on our trucks for many years,” Hammel said. “They are set at 67 MPH. We feel the slower everyone drives the safer the road will be.”
Officially, the American Trucking Associations has not yet taken a position on the measure. But ATA President and CEO Chris Spear has said he welcomed the FMCSA’s updated plan for a speed limiter rule.
The divide is with the OOIDA. On the surface, OOIDA says it opposes mandating speed limiters, because would they lead to increased interactions between trucks and passenger cars, thereby decreasing safety.
But privately, industry sources say OOIDA’s opposition is more economic, than safety. That’s because the vast majority of all long-haul truck drivers are paid by the mile, not by their time. So any decrease in miles driven is essentially a pay cut for drivers.
Last January, the National Roadway Safety Strategy unveiled by the Department of Transportation (DOT) cited speed as a significant factor in fatal crashes. Use of speed management could reduce serious injuries and fatalities, according to FMCSA. The National Transportation Safety Board listed speed limiters on its Most Wanted list in 2021.
Some of the 14,500-plus comments are from people who identify as truck drivers, and they are giving FMCSA an earful, judging from comments to the agency’s web site. Some examples:
- “If all trucks are governed to low speeds there will be more traffic jams. It will make it difficult for trucks to pass each other. Most company trucks are governed anyway,” one anonymous commenter said in comments filed on the FMCSA web site;
- “It will hurt owner-operators more,” another said. “It is good that trucks go different speeds so they can pass and get away from each other. It is safer to have traffic more spread out and moving at higher speeds than have clustered at slower speed. If trucks get governed at least get the highest speed limit in the USA (85 mph);”;
- “Limiting speeds in trucks will not make them safer,” said one commenter identified as “Beyond Dirt LLC.” “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 you limit all trucks to one set speed, lower than the speed of cars, you are likely to create a situation of having two trucks, side by side, traveling at their limited speed,” commenter Michael Palmer said. “Neither one being able to pass the other (creates) a bottleneck of traffic. This bottleneck could cause an impatient driver of a car to take the shoulder the pass the trucks, which would be very unsafe. This will cause more safety concerns than it will fix”;
- “I do think that semi-trucks should be limited to a certain speed maybe 65 to 68 mph because I see a lot of trucks speeding out here. They're doing 75 miles an hour and 80 mph down the highway and that's becoming very dangerous,” truck driver Jerry Tolin Jr. said. “I am a truck driver myself and we are governed at 68 where I work. So I think that's a pretty good speed for safety and the motoring public”;
- “Limiting speeds on trucks will cause more accidents, road rage and traffic jams,” one anonymous commenter said. “As it is now America does not have the infrastructure to support having speed limiters on trucks. We get cut off constantly by irate drivers because we passed someone (and) took too long. Limiters will make it take a lot longer to pass people and also less speed makes it more dangerous to merge or get out of an emergency vehicle’s way”;
- “Making mandatory speed limiters on heavy vehicles is more of a safety hazard on the road,” commenter Christopher Zellers said. “It will create more hazardous road situations”;
- “The speeding is due to these ELD (electronic logging devices), drivers are watching the time going by, trying to get from point A to B, not to mention dispatch pushing, the other reason is the drivers on the road are not paying attention,” one anonymous driver said. “I’ve been out here for 33 years and everyday it gets worst (sic). I can't wait to get out of a truck”;
- “It should be (the same) speed for everybody,” commenter Michelle Rychecky said. “Otherwise, it's discriminatory. If it's anything less than what the speed limit is (in) my state which is 75, I'm just going to retire early, thank you”;
- “Trust me, at 65 mph I’m getting road raged constantly and am being passed hundreds of times a day which makes me very vulnerable to drifting side swipes and people cutting in too close after the pass, along with tailgating me until they pass,” commenter Ina Daly said, adding she works for a large company with governors on its trucks. “It’s not safe but I can’t get my company to raise our speed due fuel economy and wrongly perceived safety improvements at lower speeds”;
- “The majority of truck drivers are not the brightest individuals you will come across,” Christopher Cooper wrote. “Two trucks governed at the same speed will still try to pass each other because one will weigh less than the other. On inclines or declines are when they will try. If they do not clear one another by the end of the hill most will not give an inch. You will be looking at a huge increase in road rage incidents if this goes through. Maybe put a max at 75 which is what our tires on the trailer are rated. But anything under 70 will be regretted the second a rulemaker gets stuck behind two idiots”; and
- In a typical refrain, one anonymous commenter said, “This proposed regulation is a huge overstep of power and will only cause more harm to this industry and nation.”
Federal regulators had considered both a carrier and truck manufacturer-based approach to speed limiters in 2016, when FMCSA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) jointly proposed a speed limiter rulemaking. But the Trump administration buried that proposal.
To date, Ontario and Quebec are the only two jurisdictions in North America to require speed limiters set at around 68 MPH (105 KMH). Those laws have been in place since 2009. They also are in place in 33 European countries, where the average maximum speed limit for large trucks is 50 mph.
Since 2019, the Trucking Alliance, an industry-based safety coalition, has been pushing for mandatory speed limiters set at 65 mph.
“I’ve spent my entire career in the trucking industry. There’s simply no legitimate reason for an 80-foot tractor trailer to be driven within a few feet of other motorists, at speeds of 70 or 75 or 80 miles per hour.” Steve Williams, chairman and CEO of Maverick USA in Little Rock, Ark., co-founder and president of the Trucking Alliance and also a former chairman of the American Trucking Associations, said in a statement posted on the Trucking Alliance website.