This story appears in the Nov. 4 print edition of Transport Topics.
An upcoming federal rule mandating speed limiters on heavy-duty trucks will include the requirement that current vehicles be retrofitted as well as new trucks rolling down assembly lines, according to an official of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Christopher Bonanti, NHTSA associate administrator for rulemaking, said the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has joined the rulemaking process, so that the speed-limiter mandate can apply to all trucks and not just new models.
A recent Department of Transportation report on rulemakings had said the speed-limiter proposal could be out as early as March. However, Bonanti said that date could be delayed now that FMCSA has joined the process.
“We hope to get that [notice of proposed rulemaking] published . . . later in 2014,” Bonanti said at American Trucking Associations’ Management Conference & Exhibition in Orlando, Fla., late last month.
“We normally do our rule, and then FMCSA does its rule, but this rule is going to be a joint rule,” Bonanti said. “We’re taking into consideration the safety requirements associated with what is being considered, and also the enforcement mechanisms associated with it.”
FMCSA spokesman Duane De-Bruyne said the agency expects the rule to reduce 1,115 fatal accidents annually.
Bonanti said a federal study showed that speed limiters could save lives and increase fuel economy.
The rule is being crafted in response to petitions filed in 2006 by American Trucking Associations, Road Safe America and nine motor carriers.
In early 2011, NHTSA said in a Federal Register announcement that the petitions merited “further consideration through the agency’s rulemaking process.”
At that time, NHTSA originally said it expected to complete the proposed rule in 2012. Despite the delay, Bonanti’s announcement last month was well-received.
“We’ve been waiting for years, and we’re hopeful that DOT will take some action in 2014 to make this a reality, or at least take steps toward making it a reality,” said Dave Osiecki, ATA’s senior vice president for policy and regulatory affairs. “Speed management has not gotten the attention that it needs.”
In 2006, ATA said a rule should require that speed limiters be set no higher than 68 mph. However, ATA has since revised its policy and asked that the maximum be 65 mph, Osiecki said.
Although ATA wanted both new and in-use trucks to be governed by speed limiters, its petition focused on new trucks.
“We wanted the limiters to be set at the time of manufacture and be tamperproof, but also have the existing trucks be speed-limited,” Osiecki said. “But it’s a little more costly to go back and make them tamperproof. In fact, I don’t know if it’s doable.”
Steve Owings, co-founder of Road Safe America, called the decision to include FMCSA in the rulemaking “a great development.”
“We’ve emphasized in our numerous discussions with the agencies that it’s crucial that existing trucks that have the equipment, which we understand goes all the way back to model year 1992, be included in the rule,” Owings said. “There’s virtually no expense to it.”
Timothy Blubaugh, executive vice president of the Truck & Engine Manufacturers, said that while the speed-limiter feature exists on most 1998 and newer engines, retrofitting the in-use engines with tamperproof capability is not practicable.
“It would be prohibitively expensive to reprogram the electronics of those engines with a speed-limiter feature that is tamperproof,” Blubaugh told Transport Topics. “Essentially, retrofitting tamperproof capability would require numerous development programs to write new software for every old version of engine electronics.”
Owings said that roughly 70% of the trucks in the United States already have their speed limiters set and as a result have reported that they have reduced crashes and saved money on fuel and maintenance.
However, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association does not agree that the speed-limiter rule will reduce highway accidents or fatalities.
“If speed limiters actually improved safety, you would expect to see carriers that use them to have fewer crashes,” said OOIDA spokeswoman Norita Taylor. “But they don’t — they have more.”
The quality of the data relied upon for the safety claims made by the petitioners has shown to be incomplete, Taylor said.
“Virtually everything coming from D.C. these days is rhetoric, devoid of any direct connection to safety,” she said. “The safest highway speeds are uniform while differentials among vehicles increase the likelihood for unsafe interactions and maneuvering.”