Anger Over Speed Limiters Voiced in Comments to DOT

John Sommers II for TT

This story appears in the Oct. 17 print edition of Transport Topics.

Some motorists said they favor the idea of slowing trucks down on the highway, but the overwhelming majority of the nearly 3,000 comments filed thus far on a federal heavy-truck speed limiter proposal came from truckers calling it a recipe for disaster.

In written comments to federal regulators, truck drivers also said the proposed requirement would cut their productivity, cause “rolling road blocks,” increase instances of road rage, create an uneven economic playing field and keep them from their families longer.

The proposal, published Sept. 7 jointly by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, does not specify a speed that could be adopted in a final rule but suggests that setting limiters at 60 mph, 65 mph or 68 mph would save lives and reduce fuel use.

The comment period closes Nov. 7, but the agencies are pondering extending the deadline, according to FMCSA Administrator Scott Darling.

“I already drive a governed company truck. It is hard to try to stay out of the way of the flow of traffic,” wrote Christopher Rickbrodt of Riverview, Florida. “In the Western states, where some speed limits are as high as 85 mph, running at 65 mph is really dangerous to other drivers who can’t judge the closing rate. I hate to say it, but either slow everyone down or leave it alone.”

The proposal requires the devices eventually would need to be capable of verification by regulators or law enforcement via onboard diagnostics. It does not require that the limiters be tamper­-proof.

Earlier this month, American Trucking Associations President Chris Spear sharply criticized the proposal as “flawed,” largely because it would create differential speeds on the nation’s highways.

ATA and other large associations are expected to file comments before the deadline.

John Boyle of Marlton, New Jersey, said he owns and operates a fleet of about 40 Class 8 trucks and has been using speed limiters for more than 10 years.

“I applaud your efforts to make the roadways safer,” Boyle wrote. “However, your selective approach to enforcement is curious. Why selectively legislate speed-reducing devices for trucks but not for cars? … Why are you only looking to limit speed on trucks when your own data clearly indicated that speeding in passenger vehicles is the more significant problem?”

While there were many comments in favor of speed limiters, primarily from noncommercial motorists, most of the strong opposition came from independent operators and drivers for small companies.

Robert Jewett, of Weare, New Hampshire, a retired truck driver and current chairman of the New Hampshire Professional Drivers Association, said, “I have over 42 years of commercial driving, and from what I hear and have seen is trucks at lower speeds will be in the way of motorists, therefore causing more accidents making motorists at times take more chances.”

“If you’ve ever driven in Canada, where their trucks are limited to 65, you’ve seen how long it takes for one semi to pass another,” wrote Thomas Stoddard, who did not list his address. “You will have traffic backups for miles.”

“I have been driving CMV’s for 44 years with 4.4 million safe miles behind me,” wrote Bob Ciaccia of Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. “When two or more speed-regulated trucks are trying to pass each other, you get a moving road block! This causes cars that are stuck in this road block to get impatient, and once the block is ended, the cars will speed up past the trucks sometimes cutting us off like they are upset.”

Valerie Heinonen, of New York City, who supports the speed limiter rule, said that as a noncommercial driver she often observes speeding trucks when she travels the New England Thruway and Long Island Expressway.

“Truckers, forced to speed by their customers looking for profit and cost-cutting, are at more risk when the speed limit is over 65,” Heinonen wrote. “Everyone suffers. There is no need for such high speed on public roads — people can speed at raceways!”

Marc McComb, address not listed, said truck crashes cause more damage than most car crashes simply due to the mass of trucks, and that adding speed only makes things worse.

“While the technology is available to prevent trucks from excess speed, it should be required on all trucks,” McComb wrote. “Truckers are trying to make a living by getting their loads to their destinations as quick as possible, making speeding abuse more likely. The chance of speeding should be taken out of the equation for the good and safety of everyone.”

Eric Robertson of Olympia, Kentucky, asked why aren’t cars’ speed restricted?

“A significant percentage of accidents involving commercial motor vehicles are caused by the illegal and dangerous driving of people in private, noncommercial vehicles,” Robertson wrote. “Speeding needs to be addressed in the industry, but not by governing vehicles. This will be a business killer for smaller companies and independent drivers.”

An array of safety groups including Road Safe America, the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, and the Truck Safety Coalition, said they opposed the proposed rule.

“It is critical that this rule apply to all trucks on the roads, not just new trucks. Implementing a heavy-vehicle speed limiter rule that applies to all trucks equipped with the technology, including those that have it now, will enhance public safety now,” the groups wrote.