Federal regulators surely ruffled some feathers this week after publishing on Monday the FMCSA's intent to pursue a speed limiter mandate at 68 mph, and then quickly retracted it before the end of the day.
But even that first glimpse of the all important number (speed limiter talk has gone around for years, but never with any mention of a specific number) sent ripples through the trucking industry, especially among drivers. Remember, the speed limiter Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) saw 15,000 comments collected, probably the second-most commented-on ANPRM in FMCSA's history, and heavily negative on the driver's side.
Truckload Carriers Association Vice President of Government Affairs David Heller urged caution with reading the tea leaves around the mention of 68 mph.
[Related: Speed limiters: How fast is too fast?]
"Without official notice, it’s still kind of speculation at this point," he said, noting that regulators "didn't publish a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking, just an update of their regulatory agenda."
"Without the 68 number officially appearing in the register as that," Heller said, the mention of 68 mph "raises more questions than it answers." An official notice would contain "pages of information" getting into the "nitty gritty" of speed limiters, and whether or not FMCSA will allow some flexibility to the 68 mph number.
TCA supports a speed limit for trucks at 65, or up to 70 if the trucks have advanced features like adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking. Most drivers take the opposite view.
For Gerald Wise, an owner-operator with 29 years trucking and experience on the Driver Advisory Board at Ace Doran, technology and speed limiters are already positively married.
"So most trucks today, newer trucks, come from the factory governed to 75," he said. "The dealers will not turn them up."
Wise's 2018 Mack "throws up a warning at you if you hit 70.5 mph," he said. Wise, based in Ohio, doesn't really run out west or in states with a 70 mph speed limit, mostly running to New York or Pennsylvania and clicking cruise control in at around 68 anyway.
[Related: An argument for speed limiters in cars]
Even in states with a higher speed limit, Wise said he'd never run much more than 70. "At around 72-73, you're just giving fuel away," he said.
Still, Wise "would like to see one or two more miles an hour in there," fearing the "elephant races" where two governed trucks try to pass each other, backing traffic up for miles behind.
"68 is just ok, it weeds out the company trucks and Canadian trucks and gets you around them. I don’t think it’s unreasonable, but I’m sure some of the people want over 70 or nothing at all," he said.
But for Barry Shackelford, a Michigan-based small fleet owner who often runs down to Texas, his operation would see a major impact from such a rule.
"All you have to do is go down to Texas where they have a lot of trucks doing 75 mph, and a lot of nothingness, especially in Western Texas," he said. Shackelford's fleet of mostly older trucks routinely hit 70 in Texas, and he relies on that speed limit to meet his deliveries in a timely fashion.
As far as fuel mileage goes, Shackelford raised an interesting point.
"On my truck, if I’m running 65 down the road I'm only getting 5.5, but if I run 70 I'm getting 5.2 or 5.3, so it's not a huge difference," he said.
Furthermore, he's "experimented" with governed trucks, and found the computer can kill fuel mileage.
"A number of companies limit it to 62 and when they drive 62, gas mileage goes to hell, swishing fuel right out the injectors, so you have to run under that to avoid it," he said. "Whenever you're at the wall, whatever speed that is, it goes completely down. I did it once and fuel mileage went to hell."
But even with vastly different equipment and operations, both Wise and Shackelford agreed that speed limiters would increase accidents, make traffic worse, and hurt business.
Until the final rule gets published, it's impossible to know how this regulation could impact trucking, but for now drivers still seem united behind what Overdrive polling on the subject found last year, with one memorable review putting it bluntly: "Dumbest idea I ever heard."