The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are closer than ever to requiring speed limiters on vehicles weighing more than 26,000 pounds. The agency is debating between setting the limit at 60, 65, or 68 miles per hour and is taking public input before reaching a final conclusion. Vehicles manufactured on or after 9/1/20 would be required to have a speed monitoring device physically preventing the vehicle from exceeding the speed limit. The proposal can be read here.
US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx considers this rule a priority. He called it “a win for safety, energy conservation and our environment”. DOT estimates that this will save $1 billion a year in fuel costs and the NHTSA notes that even slight reductions in speed correlate to large reductions in deadly collisions.
This is a very contentious issue. It is not your typical debate between the industry and the government. Rather it is an issue between two factions in the industry. The American Trucking Association (ATA) has not only come out in favor of the rule but has been petitioning for it for 10 years. ATA President Chris Spear notes that companies voluntarily using speed limiters “have found significant safety, as well as fuel efficiency and equipment lifespan benefits with little to no negative impact on productivity.” On the other side is the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) which calls the proposal a “dangerous mandate”. They argue that once imposed this takes control out of the hands of drivers and that there are multiple scenarios where a driver must accelerate to avoid danger. Many drivers have pointed out that this will increase trucks driving side by side making it difficult, if not unsafe, for others to pass and increasing congestion.
The DOT’s 118 page proposal hints at the real source of friction in this debate: The mandate could undercut the independence of owner-operators. As the proposal states, at page 85: “small trucking companies, especially independent owner-operators, would be less profitable with speed limiting devices set. We have very limited data to predict how the affected owner-operators would deal with the increase in delivery times. We expect that some of the affected owner-operators would work for trucking companies as independent contractors. If all of the affected owner-operators worked for trucking companies as independent contractors, they would lose $54 million in labor income.”
To us this sounds like a case of overregulation. Speeding is already illegal and highway cops do a pretty decent job of enforcing it. Also road conditions are fluid. We would expect professional drivers to be able to react to roadway situations within the law and according to their judgment as needed. An arbitrary speed cap can’t take that into account. Certainly, companies have the right to equip their fleets with such devices. It would be a better use of government resources to incentivize companies large and small to find ways to limit speeds rather than mandating the installation of limiters.
Comments may be submitted by any of the following methods within 60 days:
- Docket Management Facility. U.S. Department of Transportation, 1200 New Jersey Avenue S.E., West Building Ground Floor, Room W12-140, Washington, D.C. 20590-0001
- Hand Delivery or Courier. 1200 New Jersey Avenue S.E., West Building Ground Floor, Room W12-140, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday, except Federal holidays