Several weeks back, following the American Trucking Associations’ sharing of the image at right via its Facebook page, Overdrive asked the above poll question to its readers. As results show, very little support exists among owner-operators for mandatory speed governing/limiting of trucks, but a return to a national approach to maximum speed garners a measure of support.
The American Trucking Associations’ support of a speed limiters (or governors) mandate for all new heavy-duty Class 8 trucks goes back many years now to Road Safe America founder and current Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee Chairman Stephen Owings’ 2006 petition, mirrored by ATA’s own, to NHTSA to limit new-truck speeds to 68 miles per hour. In years since, there has been more than a little talk of the rule potentially requiring retrofit of many existing vehicles with speed governors as well — Road Safe America and ATA both now advocate all 1992 and later Class 7 and 8 trucks be required to govern speed at 65 mph, and the Associations likewise support a national 65-mph speed limit — for all vehicles.
Reporting within the last year has cited NHTSA officials as saying the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration was brought into the speed limiter rulemaking process in order that older vehicles could be included in the rulemaking on a mandate for limited speed.
Owner-operator Joey Slaughter, commenting via the Overdrive’s Trucking Pro LinkedIn group on the speed-governor rule currently expected for proposal later this year, called the speed-limiter mandate a “solution in search of problem…. In my observations, excessive speed for trucks is not a problem at all. Most trucks that aren’t governed are operated by owner-operators like myself who buy their own fuel. And we are some of the slowest drivers.”
Owner-operator Blair Blakely, via the same venue, noted he believed the rule was less about safety than about a kind of leveling of the playing field by eliminating what competitive advantage might come from speeds above 65. “The ATA and you and I operate at different ends of the same industry. They are in favor of anything to increase profits of their members and one way to increase profits is to eliminate competition, and we are the competition.”
When the subject of a national speed limit is divorced from the mandate for governors, however, nearly a third of Overdrive readers appear to support the measure, provided it will slow down many of the auto drivers around them. Clinton Seals called out the 80 mph speed limit on some highways out west for “creating a lot of potential for major accidents, especially with all of those negligent text/handheld device users that are a danger to our highways while they are driving at those speeds.”
Seals’ support for a 65-mph-truck/70-mph-auto split national speed limit, however, drew the ire of others, who echo the thoughts of many over the years on the unsafe nature of split speeds, given they increase interactions in close quarters between autos and trucks. But Seals hammered home another point that nonetheless calls into question the efficacy of a national speed limit, without adequate enforcement: “We all know that most of the motoring public will still go over these limits,” Seals wrote, “so let our Highway Patrol do their work.”
Perhaps summing up the overall No vote of the majority in the poll, one commenter noted that today’s state-to-state approach to speed limits reflected the reality that safe “speed is relative to the traffic and road conditions — 65mph, for example, is way too fast in crowded interstate conditions in inclement weather, but out on the open roads of Montana or Texas with no other vehicle in sight, it is not. In that second example, traffic and road conditions come in second to vehicle condition. Are the truck’s tires properly inflated, not cut or dry-rotted? Brand-new radials carrying their designed loading are safe to take up to their designed speed.
“In that special open road situation with no traffic on a clear day, a truck not overloaded with tires properly inflated in good condition could handle the rated top end speed of that tire — 80mph, 100mph, 120mph. But that comes with a waiver — a waiver and warning of heat buildup due to high speed, sidewall flex, and high road temps — all of which lead to an overheated tire that is likely to separate.”
The reader went on to share an anecdote of a friend who hit 110 mph on a barren road in a Peterbilt many years ago and “lived to tell about it.” Neither here nor there, however, he said, returning to the central point: “Speed is relative. I am more worried about traffic congestion, poorly maintained road surfaces and bad weather.”
No amount of speed regulation is going to change those three factors, and in the first case, many believe, governing truck speed may exacerbate the effect.