Trucking Safety & Regulatory Updates: Part Two

In 2000, the U.S. Department of Transportation created the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to head government regulation regarding trucking safety. As part of its goal “to reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities involving large trucks and buses,” the FMCSA develops and enforces motor-carrier regulations. In this second installment of a multi-part series on important updates to federal trucking regulations, the focus is Speed Limiters (part one covers Maximum Driving Time and Electronic Logs).

Trucking Safety & Regulatory Updates: Speed Limiters

Speeding is a major contributing factor to large truck accidents, ishutterstock_31315468-1n part because it can take longer to stop a large truck at higher rates of speed. One study of fatal large-truck crashes found that up to 21% of large truck crashes involved speeding. [1] Speed limiters, sometimes called speed governors, are devices installed in a truck that prevent it from exceeding a pre-determined speed. Proponents of speed governors say that they advance safety concerns because crash severity is highest among large truck crashes where speeds exceeded 45 mph. Most of the heaviest trucks come with standard-equipped speed limiters, and many fleets already require their use. In addition to their value as a safety measure, speed limiters can also improve fuel economy and reduce tire wear.

Yet speed limiters are not without controversy. Critics claim they can reduce safety by preventing drivers from accelerating to avoid accidents, and that by forcing trucks to drive slower than the flow of traffic, they create dangerous speed variances between trucks and surrounding vehicles. Further, speed limiters are unpopular among some truck drivers who are paid according to the distance driven per day. It is perhaps for this reason that the internet is full of “how-to” guides for disabling speed limiters.  Nonetheless, a 2012 study by FMCSA “indicated a profound safety benefit for trucks equipped with an active [speed limiter].” [1] Additionally, speed limiters are widely mandated in Europe and Australia with great success. In particular, the UK saw the crash involvement rate for speed-limited heavy trucks fall 26% in the twelve years after mandating speed limiters. [2]

In 2006, trucking safety advocates petitioned the U.S. Department of Transportation to require that speed governors be set on all Class 7 and 8 commercial trucks with a model year 1992 and newer. Because most trucks are already equipped with the technology, the cost of such a rule would be negligible. The DOT has not yet passed the rule, though many experts in this field believe it is eminent. Recently, Road Safe America President and Co-Founder Steve Owings spoke to the national Conference of Mayors, encouraging city leaders to press the federal government to require the heaviest commercial trucks to set speed limiters at 65 MPH or slower. [3]