Statehouse Primer

By Mike Matousek, OOIDA Director of state legislative affairs

Over the past few years, I have been fortunate to speak with many OOIDA members about state legislative issues all across the country. I've had the opportunity to learn about transportation funding, municipal enforcement, lane restrictions, towing, parking and truck weights, to name a few issues. During these conversations, one thing is clear: Professional drivers simply want to be treated like everyone else and not like, as I've heard people say, second-class citizens.

Unfortunately, many state governments and state legislatures don't treat truck drivers fairly. Often, trucks are viewed as nothing more than a piggy bank, a nuisance and a safety hazard.

As for wanting to be treated like other motorists, let's take a look at state speed limits, in particular those states with speed limits that are different for cars and trucks.

The question is simple: Are uniform speeds safer than split speeds? Forty-three states believe it's the former - at least as it relates to rural interstates. Heck, in NASCAR they'll black flag a car for not maintaining a minimum track speed, in part because it's not safe.

There are seven states that have split speed limits on rural interstates: California, Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, Montana, Oregon and Washington. The other 43 states generally have speed limits that are the same for everyone.

OOIDA doesn't advocate for a specific speed limit, but we strongly believe they should be uniform in the interest of public safety. For example, in California trucks are limited to 55 mph while cars can travel at 70 mph. Legally, there is a 15 mph differential speed limit. In the real world, that number is probably much higher considering many passenger vehicles operate at speeds above 70 mph.

Last year, Montana joined California as states with the highest speed limit differentials in the country. Montana has a 15 mph differential on rural interstates (and split speed limits on other roads). The only difference is that in Montana the maximum allowable speed limit for cars is 80 mph while the speed limit for trucks is 65 mph. Rather than close the gap, Montana chose to expand it.

In Indiana, the speed limits are 70 mph for cars and 65 mph for trucks. While this pales in comparison to the split speed limits in California and Montana, it doesn't make it less wrong.

Do Indiana lawmakers know something that the majority of the rest of the country does not? We doubt it. More than likely, a few well-positioned lawmakers simply refuse to accept the facts based on the misperception that keeping trucks at speeds slower than other vehicles improves safety.

While I know it won't transform the trucking industry (i.e., it's not ELDs, hours-of-service, etc.), OOIDA is committed to addressing speed limit differentials. That includes both eliminating them where they currently exist and trying to prevent other states from enacting them.

If you have an opinion about split speed limits, whether for or against, please send me an email at Mike_Matousek@ooida.com. The more I know about this issue - and every other trucking issue for that matter - the more I can better represent your views and interests with state lawmakers. LL