SPECIAL REPORT: Study shows pros and cons of speed limiters

| 7/10/2008

Thursday, July 10, 2008 – Transport Canada has completed its highly anticipated study on speed limiters. In simple terms, the study acknowledges some of the safety and environmental benefits promoted by large motor carrier associations, but it also acknowledges many of the problems that owner-operator groups have brought to the discussion.

Canada’s federal transportation ministry released the study on Friday, July 4. It was commissioned by a steering committee of provincial transportation officials, and is divided up into an overall summary and six categories: Safety; technical considerations; trade and competitiveness; the environment; a speed-limiter case study; and the use of speed limiters around the globe.

Both sides of the speed limiter debate are likely to use the study to bolster their respective arguments.

“What we see in this study is more of what we’ve been telling the Ontario government, that studies just don’t support this. If you conduct your independent research, it will show that when you create speed differentials on highways, your rates of accidents or interactions between objects moving at different speeds is going to increase,” Laura O’Neill, government affairs counsel for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, told “Land Line Now” on XM Satellite Radio.

Click here to view and navigate the study menu.

Transport Canada, which is comparable to the U.S. Department of Transportation, published the findings less than three weeks after the Ontario Legislature approved legislation to require that electronic speed limiters be set on all heavy trucks doing business in the province. Provincial officials continue to promote a maximum setting of 105 km/h or 65 mph.

Ontario officials are pushing for implementation this fall, beginning with six to 12 months of educational time. Full enforcement would begin in 2009, officials told Land Line.

Quebec has a similar provision to require speed limiters, but officials in that province said they would wait on other Canadian provinces to “harmonize” on the issue.

While officials in New Brunswick are pondering the introduction of a similar law, officials in Alberta and Saskatchewan have come out against mandatory speed limiters.

O’Neill said the Transport Canada study raises important points about speed limiters even if many of the points have been stated repeatedly by people and groups on both sides of the issue.

Safety issues
Researchers who conducted the portion of the Transport Canada study on safety said speed limiters would make highways safer, particularly when the roads are not congested. Add congestion to the mix, and the numbers change.

“As the volume is set close to capacity (2000 vehicles per hour per lane) more vehicle interactions take place and this leads to a reduction in safety especially for those segments with increased merging and lane-change activity, such as on and off ramp segments,” researchers stated.

“In these instances the introduction of truck speed limiters can actually reduce the level of safety when compared to the non-limiter case.”

The researchers said passing on rural highways could also be a safety issue when it involves speed-limited trucks.

Trade and competitiveness
Government-mandated speed limiters in Ontario could keep American owner-operators out and could hinder the right of Canadian truckers to do business in and out of the province, researchers said in the trade section of the study.

“The majority (80 percent) of the owner-operators interviewed indicated that to avoid being speed limited they would no longer haul into Quebec or Ontario,” researchers said. “This may limit competition to the extent that these operators do avoid operating in these jurisdictions.”

The situation could be remedied, researchers said, if truckers purchased equipment that allowed them to change their speed-limiter settings upon entering or exiting a particular jurisdiction.

O’Neill says the investment in such technology could be cost-prohibitive to many owner-operators.

Technical considerations
Truck Manufacturers Association President Bob Clarke contributed to the study by answering technical questions from researchers that included cost of equipment to set and check speed limiters from the cab. Such devices vary by manufacturer, Clarke said.

“A driver/owner equipped with a diagnostic tool could connect to the diagnostic port in the cab and adjust the ‘maximum road speed’ parameter setting if it is not password protected,” Clarke stated. “The software to do this would cost about $450, while the connectors and other hardware needed would cost about $650-$700. The ability to make these changes remotely, via GPS, does not exist at this time.”

Clarke also weighed in on the fuel economy discussion to say that driver habits and spec’ing of individual trucks play a major role.

If a truck’s power train (engine, transmission rear axles and tires) is specified to maximize fuel economy and is prevented from operating in that range due to speed limiting, there is likely to be a reduction in fuel economy,” he said.

“Fuel economy is greatly dependant on how a vehicle is operated, so it is conceivable that any reduction or improvement of fuel economy resulting from a reduced maximum speed limit may be negated depending on how a driver’s behavior is modified.”

Click here to read the technical questions and answers.

Environmental benefits
Transport Canada researchers said speed limiters on trucks would bring about a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and fuel consumption on those particular trucks.

What OOIDA officials and others contend is that, while the slowed truck may save fuel, the vehicles interacting with the slower truck may burn more fuel because of the decelerating, passing and accelerating that would occur.

“I just have to point out that it doesn’t look like the savings are all that great,” O’Neill said, referring to Transport Canada’s estimate of 1.4 percent fuel savings for trucks on Canadian highways.

Researchers said in the report that speed-limited trucks would save 228 million liters of fuel per year, or approximately 60.4 million gallons. They also concluded that greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by 0.64 metric megatons or approximately 705,472 tons.

Speed limiter case study
Transport Canada conducted a case study that showed speed limiters are a way of life for many large fleets. From the standpoint of the large fleets surveyed, speed limiters have significant benefits for industry, for government and the general public.

The case study also included input from the Owner-Operators Business Association of Canada, which is categorically opposed to a speed-limiter mandate, and the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada. PMTC officials have also expressed opposition to a mandate, but they took a wait-and-see approach to the Transport Canada research.

Speed limiters around the world
Researchers for Transport Canada acknowledge that 33 countries have government-mandated speed limiters including the United Kingdom, Sweden and Australia. The steering committee for the study directed researchers to relate those speed-limiter experiences to Canada.

Researchers reported a lack of follow-up studies in countries with speed limiters.

“Ten years later, no empirical studies have been done in any participating jurisdictions to directly link the use of speed limiters with improvements in road safety,” the researchers wrote.

“Additionally, there is a lack of research on the safety impacts of truck-car speed differentials due to speed-limited trucks. It is, therefore, difficult to predict the potential road safety impacts of a speed limiter mandate in Canada.”

The United Kingdom has reported fuel savings in speed-limited vehicles as well as reduced insurance premiums, but road-safety concerns also surfaced – including passing, traffic backlog and convoys of trucks blocking the on and off-ramps on highways. There were also issues with compliance and enforcement, including tampering and problems with testing equipment.

In summary, the study shows benefits of speed limiters but also highlights problems with government mandates.

OOIDA officials plan to challenge Bill 41 in Ontario – which included the speed limiter mandate – on grounds that it violates trade laws and discriminates against truck drivers in Canada and the U.S.

– By David Tanner, staff writer

Staff Writer Reed Black contributed to this report.