Speed Demons

| May 29, 2007

SAFE covers energy issues far beyond trucking. It closely follows recommendations made by the Energy Security Leadership Council, a task force of industry, government and military representatives charged with reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil. Among transportation representatives on the council are the co-chair, FedEx President and CEO Frederick Smith, and UPS chief executive Michael Eskew.

The task force’s final report recommends increasing the weight limit and cites the much higher weight limits in Europe and Canada as models. European trucks, particularly, have a speed and weight mix far different from current U.S. standards: Trucks are governed at the equivalent of 57 mph, but standard maximum weight is the equivalent of 110,000 pounds. Because force increases exponentially with speed, the speed reduction is enough to significantly reduce the vehicle’s kinetic energy compared to that of a lighter truck traveling at maximum speed in the United States. The lower speed also reduces accident risk.

Now a highway policy consultant for the National Industrial Transportation League, Jacoby says he’s spoken with representatives of the task force, with Dorgan and with Craig staff members about increased truck weights, but that ASET was not officially involved in developing the proposed legislation. He does, however, credit ASET’s years of lobbying for raising awareness about it.

Don Osterberg, safety vice president at Schneider National, says he opposes a weight increase because of safety concerns, but that with advancements in braking technologies, the future holds a safe solution for larger vehicles. Osiecki says increased truck weight never has been part of the planning discussions on the speed governor petitions.

Even so, the physics of kinetic energy show that decreasing speed from 75 mph to 68 mph, an interval noted in comments separately submitted by Osterberg and by Road Safe, almost exactly compensates for the additional force that would be created by increasing weight from 80,000 to 97,000 pounds.

Osiecki says the primary factor in choosing 68 mph is ATA’s highway speed limit policy: 65 mph for all vehicles. Osterberg, a member of the ATA committee that helped develop the speed governor policy, says the extra 3 mph is primarily to give drivers, in the event of a steer-tire blowout, the chance to regain control by accelerating, thereby lessening front-axle pressure. For the same reason, he says, Schneider trucks are governed at 65, but their cruise controls are governed at 63.

ATA has no campaign to lower speed limits in states where they exceed 65, a majority of the country, but the association is in conversation about it with state governments and trucking associations, Osiecki says. If cars won’t slow down, if local law enforcement won’t enforce existing limits, if elected officials won’t get behind lower limits because of politics, at least the trucking industry can lead by example, he says.

“Speed limits are going in the wrong direction, and they need to come back down,” Osiecki says.

If trucks slow down across the board, Osterberg says, “that certainly could drive future considerations in slowing everybody down.”

Slower average speed appears to result in reduced productivity, because shipping rates and drivers’ pay rates largely are based on miles. A speed cap can handicap a carrier, says Sherwin Fast, president of Great Plains Trucking of Salina, Kan.

“How do you think it would go over if the government passed a law that said every retail store had to set their prices the same to level the playing field?” he asks in his submitted comments. He adds: “I think it’s big money, big trucking companies, that are trying to level the playing field.”

In his submitted comments, owner-operator Mike Simmons of Murrells Inlet, S.C., accuses the petitioners of attempting to drive small businesses out of trucking. “This is their way of controlling the industry,” he says.

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