In favor of speed limiters: One owner-op's economic, safety case

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Updated Dec 27, 2022

As the FMCSA made clear its intention to issue some speed limiter regulation next year, some 15,000 truckers and other industry participants commented on the Federal Register notice to mostly trash the idea. And it's a fact that every owner-operator I've spoken to about speed limiters absolutely hates the notion of them being required equipment. All but one, that is. New Hampshire-based Robert Ellis brings an interesting, if rare, perspective to the conversation. 

Ellis limits his 2016 Kenworth W900 at just 58 miles per hour. The truck gets 7.5 miles per gallon loaded, he said, and with another few aero touches he's hopeful he can push 9. It could happen. Recall that mpg guru Steve Kron, an owner-operator hauling in a heavily-modified 2001International, manages to pull 10 miles per gallon while averaging around 59 mph.

Ellis should own his truck outright next year, and "until then, I don't want to put much work into it," he said of potential modifications.

Robert ellis's Proud Mary 2016 KenworthEllis named the W900 "Proud Mary" after his late wife (who picked out the truck). "She was the boss," Ellis said. "I just drove for her."

[Related: Speed limiters: How fast is too fast?]

Ellis doesn't miss the speed. "I get everywhere on time," he said, also noting it's easy on the engine. Ellis pulls a reefer across the lower 48 for PDP Trucking out of Cedar Hill, Texas, and holds somewhat extreme views when it comes to speed limits. "I support a national speed limit of 60 mph," he said. "And if anyone's blowing the speed limit, the police should nail them."

As for speed limiters cutting down a driver's potential productivity, Ellis seemed to think that would be a problem for shippers to hash out, not him. 

Indeed, much of the driver outrage around speed limiters appears tied to the idea that regulators would go after professional truck drivers and not four-wheelers, who we all know it's easy to find routinely 15 mph and more above the posted speed limit. In that regard, Ellis's opinion tracks more closely with the rest of the driving population.

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[Related: An argument for speed limiters in cars] . 

Overall, his argument isn't extensive, but boils down to two ironclad points. The first is simple economics: "If you slowed right down you won’t see the gas station as much," he said. 

The second has to do with safety. "Speed kills, if you have a wreck at 50, the damage is minimal compared to a wreck at 70, which is more likely killing someone. You might get mad at me, but you know damn well it's a fact that if anything happens it's less damage," he said, at his governed speed. 

Ellis recalled a particularly close call to illustrate his point. "A couple years ago driving with Mary, a guy spun right in front of me in the rain broadside in my lane," he said. "I dropped the whole gear, brought it to the left and just missed him. The guy behind me tailgating, he ended up T-boning" the spinning car. "By the time he got around my trailer, he was too close to see what was happening. 

"I didn’t touch anyone," he said. 

Robert Ellis and his late wife, MaryOwner-operator Robert Ellis and his late wife, MaryEllis also rejects the old school of thought that "faster is better" by recalling that in the old days, like the 1970s, loaded trucks didn't do much more than 55 mph anyway. Instead, he chalks up the speeding to a "me first, screw you kind of attitude" from some in trucking brought about by competitive natures. 

And lest you think Ellis just doesn't have the need for speed in his blood, think again. Ellis credits his quick reflexes in the aforementioned close call to his days racing stock cars. "You make a decision and go with it, there's no second chances," he said of racing. 

Ellis hopes to get back out on his local Monadnock Speedway in Keene, New Hampshire, the site of the annual Gear Jammer Truck Show. "I told my kids to build me another" stock car to race, he said.

His goal is to complete a lap around the speedway on two wheels. "I wonder if they'd count it as half a lap," he joked.  

[Related: 'Dumbest idea I've ever heard': Owner-operators say no to a speed limiter mandate]