Washington Insider
Speed limiter battle far from over

By Laura O'Neil-Kaumo, OOIDA Director of government affairs

The temperature was 14 degrees below zero on that March day in 2009 when we stood on the steps of the Ontario government protesting the potential passage of a provincial law mandating that all trucks must operate at 65 mph or 105 kph.

As we spoke to the press, I was trying hard to fight the frostbite and stick to the point that there simply isn’t any science demonstrating a causal connection between improved highway safety and speed-limited trucks. We were frozen solid from the waist down on that day, but we stayed out there drilling home the dangers of speed limiters on behalf of our Canadian members.

We were far behind the 8-ball going into the fight in Ontario (which soon spread to Quebec) because proponents of speed limiters had captured a lot of ground by making exaggerated claims of highway safety and environmental stewardship. Although there wasn’t any meaningful research to support the legislation, many lawmakers bought the talking points. And despite the absence of science, a law was passed.

Seven years ago, we were told by proponents of the legislation that speed limiters would soon be mandated throughout Canada. We were told to simply abandon our cause because even in the United States a speed-limiter mandate was rapidly approaching and, in fact, the State of California would be leading the charge by year’s end.

We were accused of being against sound environmental policy and supporting truckers who regularly exceed posted speed limits.

Well, speed limiters haven’t yet swept the continent. California, as of now, hasn’t passed a speed-limiter law (which likely would offer a number of Constitutional questions). And Congress has never affirmatively told the administration to act. Further, Congress has never even held a hearing on the issue, nor was it mandated in MAP-21 or the FAST Act.

So where is the prophesied mandate and why isn’t it the law of the land as predicted?

Truth be told, we will probably see a proposed rule on speed limiters released from the Office of Management and Budget in the next few weeks or months. Although it should be noted that the proposed rule has sat in OMB for what is considered an unprecedented amount of time.

OMB is the office in the Administration charged with the task of counting the beans and making sure that the benefits outweigh the costs. This is a considerable chore on something like speed limiters, which isn’t the result of a vast congressional conversation nor the result of any body of extensive research.

In fact, speed limiters fly in the face of all of the existing highway research, which shows that negative interactions are more likely to occur between vehicles when speed differentials are introduced. The number exponentially goes up for every mile of variance. In fact, research shows that few trucks exceed posted speed limits and that few accidents occur at these excessive speeds.

To add insult to an already uphill battle (science isn’t on the agency’s side in showing that there is some sort of benefit to governing the engine of a truck at 62 to 65 mph), OMB needs to show that there isn’t a cheaper alternative.

How do you do that when simply enforcing the posted speed limit on all vehicles is the best way to achieve maximum safety? And the most cost-effective?

When you take into consideration the loss of productivity for trucks that are traveling in some jurisdictions 18 miles per hour below the posted speed limit, and the loss of days that result from running out of hours, this becomes quite a chore.

While the gusts of change were blowing in Ontario on that day, the northern winds certainly have taken their time in the states, and rightfully so. This is a battle that, while far from over, is far from lost. LL