SPECIAL REPORT: NJ lawmakers consider split speeds, speed limiters

| 5/27/2008

Tuesday, May 27, 2008 – A New Jersey state lawmaker has introduced a pair of bills that would put greater limits on how fast trucks could travel on certain roads in the state.

One bill offered by Assemblywoman Marcia Karrow, R-Hunterdon, would eliminate uniform speed limits on rural highways. Trucks weighing more than 10,000 pounds – and trucks hauling hazardous materials, regardless of weight – would be slowed by 10 mph to 55 mph. All other vehicles would be allowed to continue to travel at the current 65 mph limit.

This is the fourth attempt in recent years to slow trucks traveling New Jersey highways. None of the previous bills made it out of committee.

The original proposal came after a day in November 2002 when three separate accidents on Interstates 80, 287 and 78 – all involving trucks – killed three people, injured six and delayed thousands of commuters. State officials said none of the accidents were caused by truck drivers.

Opponents say it doesn’t make sense to adopt split speed limits. They cite the state’s highly congested highways, which wouldn’t accommodate people driving at two different levels.

“It would be like bumper cars,” Gail Toth, director of the New Jersey Motor Truck Association, told Land Line.

She said concerns about highway safety would be better addressed simply by enforcing current regulations in the state.

Another bill would prohibit commercial trucks from being driven in the state unless they are equipped with devices known as speed “governors” – or speed limiters as they are commonly referred to in the trucking industry. The devices prevent vehicles from being operated at a speed greater than a pre-set maximum.

Trucks operating in the state would be required to have the speed limiting device set at 68 mph.

Groups in opposition of such devices include the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. The truckers group has been active in discussions with legislators in Ontario, Canada, about an effort to require all trucks in the province to have speed limiters set at 105 km/h – or 65 mph.

OOIDA has lobbied against the legislation. Officials with the association say that highways are safest when all traffic is moving at the same speed.

Toth was critical of the New Jersey effort to mandate speed limiters. She said it is misguided because the trucking industry is interstate in nature.

“Some things are better left to the federal government. There’s a bigger world out there, and we operate in it,” she said.

The speed-governor bill – A2415 – and split-speed bill – A2118 – are in the Assembly Transportation, Public Works and Independent Authorities Committee.

To view other legislative activities of interest for New Jersey in 2008, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor