Big carriers and owner-ops continue fight over speed limiter mandate as comment period closes

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Updated Dec 11, 2016

trucks on hillA large swath of the commenters who filed formal feedback with the U.S. DOT on its proposal to mandate speed governor use in the trucking industry adamantly oppose the rule, as noted by Overdrive reporting this week. 

However, big fleets who filed comments on the rule rallied around a 65 mph nationwide limit for all new trucks and those equipped from the factory with limiting capabilities, which would cover nearly all Class 8 trucks built since the early 1990s. Covenant Transportation Group, Werner Enterprises, J.B. Hunt, C.R. England and others all filed in support of a nationwide mandate and a 65 mph limit.

“We truly believe the benefits achieved in saving lives and reducing injuries by controlling the maximum speed of commercial motor vehicles far outweigh any argument against the rule,” wrote J.B. Hunt.

The 90-day public comment period on the September-issued Notice of Proposed Rulemaking closed late Wednesday. The proposed rule was developed and published jointly in September by the DOT agencies the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. See Overdrive’s coverage of the rule and its contents at this link.

Carrier-representative trade groups mostly departed from the large carrier commenters, signaling support for a limiter mandate while also characterizing the DOT’s rule as incomplete and in need of more substantive data to back it up.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, however, blasted the rule. OOIDA, a vocal and staunch critic of the speed limiter mandate from the onset, filed a 41-page comment tearing down the rule and regulators’ intentions. OOIDA “vehemently” opposes the rule, it says, calling it damaging to owner-operators’ and independents’ ability to compete in the marketplace against larger carriers.

OOIDA says the speed differential created between trucks and other vehicles on the highway poses a much greater safety risk than higher truck speeds. “Instead of relying upon concrete evidence and data about actual motor carrier and driver experience associated with speed limiters, the agencies have resorted to postulating a theoretical reduction in crash severity and environmental benefits.”

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The group also says the rule’s initiation is illegal, given new stipulations passed last year by Congress in the FAST Act highway bill. Rules classified as “major rules,” as the limiter mandate is, have to be initiated as an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking or a Negotiated Rulemaking, says OOIDA.

The Western States Trucking Association also said neither NHTSA nor FMCSA have the legal authority to promulgate a rule to mandate speed limiters.

“Contrary to the statements made in the preamble, the joint proposed rules are not based on any safety need but, rather, on a misguided effort to use federal traffic safety laws to govern emissions of greenhouse gases from trucks. Neither NHTSA nor FMCSA has the legal authority to misuse federal law in that manner,” writes the Texas Public Policy Foundation, who developed and filed comments on behalf of WSTA, a Texas-based trucker and a Texas-based carrier.

WSTA also called the rule “misguided, counterproductive, illegal and dangerous.”

The American Trucking Associations, the Truckload Carriers Association and the newer Trucking Alliance — trade groups that represent larger fleets — all proposed a 65 mph speed limit for the rule. ATA, however, says it can’t support the DOT’s proposed rule until regulators produce more data.

“In short, the NPRM leaves too many important questions unanswered—questions
that the agencies cannot simply shrug their collective shoulders at,” ATA said referring to the lack of data on speed differential and safety issues therefrom.

TCA says its also advocates for a 65 mph limit. 

Many commenters posed questions for the NHTSA and FMCSA. Such comments pressed the agencies on the scant nature of the proposal, which failed to not only specify a mandated speed but to propose a concrete scope for the rule.

Some commenters, such as the enforcer community’s Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, called for the agency to flesh out the rule further and publish a so-called Supplemental Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to give the industry a look at a more complete rule proposal and to provide feedback.

“This will allow stakeholders to fully evaluate the proposal and provide constructive input, ensuring more effective deployment and enforcement of speed limiters,” CVSA writes. The group said it supports a speed limiter mandate overall, but wants the DOT to ease some concerns prior to finalizing a mandate.

Comments from hundreds, if not thousands, of truckers show they agree with OOIDA’s and WSTA’s assertions. The docket, which contains nearly 4,500 comments total, is brimming with comments from truck operators framing the rule as unsafe, overly intrusive and unnecessary. See a sample of comments published by Overdrive Thursday at this link. And two other samples here and here.

Purported safety groups like Advocates for Auto and Highway Safety and the Truck Safety Coalition both asked the DOT to limit speeds to 60 mph and make the mandate industry-wide.

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