Issues & Positions

It's been almost four years now since the battle over elimination of the national 55 mph speed limit took place. The 55 mph speed limit law, which as the vast majority of the population agreed, imposed unrealistically low speed limits on highways designed for much faster speeds, was on the books for more than 20 years. This speed limit law generated huge revenues for states and local jurisdictions in fines and penalties against truckers and other motorists who were actually driving at safe highway speeds.

The law, of course, was originally put in place as an energy conservation measure during the fuel crisis of the early '70s. I recall in those days the oil companies and their friends in government telling us the world would be completely out of oil by the 1980s. I could never really believe those folks, but that's another subject.

Insurance companies (and others who felt they had something to gain by retaining the slower speed limits) picked up the torch and began proclaiming the virtues of 55 as an enormous highway safety benefit. Unfortunately, motor carriers and their national association (ATA) and many of ATA's state motor carrier association affiliates also climbed on the bandwagon. They supported retaining slower speed limits because motor carriers felt they were saving money through less wear and tear on equipment. There was, of course, no offsetting increase in labor cost because they all continued to pay the same low mileage or percentage of revenue rates as they did before the imposition of slower speeds. As usual, this left the drivers and owner-operators to absorb the increased cost of lower productivity and speeding fines. Those fines were often for attempting to meet unreasonable delivery schedules that these same proponents of slower speeds continued to impose on them.

OOIDA, with the support of our members, fought long and hard throughout 1995 for repeal of the 55 mph law. As success began to appear eminent, we had to beat back an attempt by motor carrier representatives and some lawmakers to retain the lower limits for trucks only. However, we succeeded and the ridiculous national 55 mph speed limit law is now a part of history.

The outrageous predictions of escalating death tolls and carnage on the highways made by proponents of slower speed limits also never happened. It never happened because it's not higher speed limits that cause accidents. Along with common sense, reliable studies have proven that the greatest accident potential occurs when vehicles are traveling on the same highways at significantly different speeds. That's why at OOIDA, we have taken a strong position in favor of uniform speed limits for both cars and trucks.

Unfortunately, the speed limit battle is still not over. Even more unfortunately, our main opposition still originates from some motor carriers and their associations that we expect would have the common sense to recognize the benefits of uniform speeds. To be honest, we have been spread pretty thin fighting the battle in many different states at the same time. But the good news is that with the outstanding help of our members in the various states, we have been steadily gaining ground.

The bad news is that some motor carriers and their associations have now opened up a new front in the war against truckers. A recent headline in the ATA publication Transport Topics proclaims, "States take aim at speeding–industry backs stiff fines for unsafe truckers". The story goes on to state, "The Missouri Motor Carriers Association, The Arkansas Motor Carriers Association and The South Carolina Trucking Association recently supported bills that would strike heavy blows to the wallets of truckers who speed." Some of their members are no doubt experts in impacting truckers' wallets.

We are as much opposed to unsafe driving practices and excessive speeding as anyone else. But fines as high as $1,000 for six mph over the speed limit would have cops at the bottom of every hill in the country just waiting to rake in the new source of revenue. In addition, there are already laws on the books to deal with unsafe or reckless driving practices and they don't single out truckdrivers for discriminatory treatment.

At OOIDA, we have been fighting these bills as they come up and so far have been able to slow them or gain reductions in the penalty amounts. We are concerned though, that we will begin seeing more and more of these types of actions by the motor carrier associations. ATA is already calling for a doubling of funding for roadside inspections. Obviously, we will continue our efforts to defeat this type of discriminatory anti-trucking legislation, but I think there is a much better way to put a stop to it. I feel confident that we can at least slow, if not stop this movement if each of you will contact the management of the motor carrier you work for or do business with and request or demand that they oppose this type of activity by their associations. It is likely only a minority of carriers is pushing those actions, but the others are apparently at least, not speaking out in opposition. It's up to you to give them the encouragement they need to speak out in defense of truckers rather than support measures that heap further discriminatory treatment on them.

There is one other important aspect to consider, one that provides at least partial motivation to the proponents of strict enforcement and higher penalties. That is the highly-visible trucker who is guilty of excessive speeding and unsafe driving practices. He's in the minority, but we all know him. He's the guy out there with the hammer down even when traffic conditions are heavy. Everybody, especially four-wheelers that are not moving as fast as he would like them to, are in his way, using up his time and space. He often displays his skills and displeasure with the unwelcome intruders on his highway by demonstrating how close he can get to their bumper at 70 or 75 mph without actually hitting them.

The fact is, this guy is getting in your wallet, too, and he will be responsible for eroding away the important gains we have been able to achieve. He's the guy that the bureaucrats and lawmakers point to when they initiate more stringent regulations and stepped-up enforcement everyone else is subjected to. Those bureaucrats and lawmakers and their families also drive cars and chances are they've had an encounter with this guy at one time or another themselves.

There is no foolproof solution to this problem because fools are difficult to communicate with. It is important, though, that we all do our best to address the problem. Sometimes peer pressure will help to make this guy understand the full consequences of his actions. If this doesn't work, there is always the option of reporting his actions to the motor carrier he works for and/or to the appropriate law enforcement agency. We're all reluctant to cause problems for another driver, but that's exactly what he's doing to everyone else.