OOIDA to feds: Speed limiters would create unsafe speed differentials

By David Tanner, Land Line senior editor | 4/23/2015

With two federal agencies pursuing a mandate for speed limiters on heavy trucks, OOIDA is urging them to consider existing research that shows uniform speeds are much safer than differentials created by slowing down the trucks. Limiting trucks by mandate would undermine other highway safety efforts, OOIDA stated in a letter to FMCSA and NHTSA on Thursday, April 23.

On Wednesday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are on track to publish their proposed rule in the Federal Register by fall of this year. The agencies themselves have pegged July 27 as a possible date of publication.

The regulatory process for the proposal includes a stop at the White House Office of Management and Budget, and that could happen any day now according to agency projections. OMB typically takes a couple of months to put its stamp on a regulatory proposal before the agencies advance it to the Federal Register and open up a public comment period.

“OOIDA writes to ensure that you and OMB understand that when cars and trucks operate at different speeds on the highway there is a significant negative impact on safety,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer stated in the letter.

“Traffic is more dynamic and less predictable. Accidents increase. Your agencies must ensure you do not produce a mandate that will arbitrarily add dangerous car-truck speed differentials to our nation’s highways,” Spencer wrote.

Illinois, Texas and Ohio have all worked in recent years to reduce the differential between cars and trucks by altering their speed limits. Their efforts were based on research that shows uniform speeds are the safest.

Spencer cites this research in the letter.

Steven Johnson of the University of Arkansas found in a 2005 study that different speeds were shown to produce more interactions between vehicles. A 1993 report to the Transportation Research Board published by John E. Baerwald found that vehicles traveling at or about the same speed minimized the need for passing, overtaking and lane changes.

“There is no clean and substantial evidence that supports the use of different posted speed limits,” OOIDA states in a document attached to the letter.

“OOIDA obviously does not condone speeding or any other unsafe driving habits. In fact, OOIDA strongly encourages truckers to comply with all state laws and federal regulations,” OOIDA states in its supplemental information. “OOIDA advocates for many initiatives that will increase safe operations in the trucking industry as well as on highways throughout the United States such as a comprehensive entry-level driver-training rule (the Association is currently an active member in the negotiating rulemaking process), and increased supply chain stakeholder accountability.”

In closing, Spencer urged the agencies to make a full assessment of research by going beyond an FMCSA-sponsored study that showed a “safety benefit” for speed limiters.

“To the casual observer, mandating speed limiters on heavy-duty vehicles might seem like a ‘safety silver bullet.’ Professional drivers know, however, that highway safety is not so simple,” Spencer wrote.

“Setting a policy in one area can have significant unintended consequences in others. OOIDA is not pushing for faster speed limits. But whatever a jurisdiction decides, the speed limit ought to be the same limit for all vehicles in order to foster a predictable, safer highway driving environment.”

The American Trucking Associations and Roadsafe America petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2006 to require speed limiters on newly manufactured heavy trucks. NHTSA, which has jurisdiction over new vehicle safety standards, granted the petition in 2011.

Not long after, the FMCSA joined NHTSA to make the proposal a joint rulemaking. FMCSA, which has jurisdiction over vehicles engaged in interstate commerce, seeks to mandate speed limiters retroactively on all trucks out on the road.

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