OOIDA: Speed limiter proposal would make America's highways more dangerous

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line associate editor | 12/8/2016

Calling it just one more in a long line of initiatives aimed at getting the government to perform the duties that should be the responsibility of large fleets to screen, train and monitor their drivers, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association asked federal regulators to reconsider a proposal that would mandate speed limiters on heavy vehicles.

In comments filed Wednesday night on a joint proposal offered by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to mandate speed limiters on vehicles weighing more than 26,000 pounds, OOIDA said the proposal is tantamount to a mulligan for large motor carriers. They seek to “level the playing field” because of “the competitive disadvantage that they brought upon themselves by their own adoption of speed limiters.”

“Drivers without speed limiters provide a more efficient transportation option because they can operate at the speed limit or the prevailing highway speed and speed-limited trucks cannot,” OOIDA’s comments stated.

More than 6,700 comments were submitted as of the filing deadline. The majority of those opposed to a proposed mandate to speed limit vehicles weighing more than 26,000 pounds say the risks posed by increasing vehicle interactions via speed differentials outweigh any purported safety benefit of slowing large trucks and buses down.

OOIDA opposes mandatory speed limiters, pointing to research that contradicts the feds’ claimed “safety benefits,” as it would force a speed differential between heavy trucks and other vehicles using the highways. That would lead to more vehicle interactions, unsafe maneuvering and crashes, a study of speed differentials shows. The Association challenges the assertion that slowing trucks down will lead to safer roadways, saying the data the agencies used to reach those conclusions in the regulatory impact analysis is deeply flawed, and fails to consider the documented risks created by speed differentials between passenger and commercial motor vehicles.

“OOIDA is most concerned that speed limiters will make the safest roads – the highways – more dangerous,” the Association stated.

A Sept. 7 joint notice of proposed rulemaking by NHTSA and FMCSA sought public comment on a variety of issues connected with speed limiters, including whether to set the speed at 60, 65 or 68 mph, and whether or not a proposed mandate should include a retrofit for all vehicles. The agencies claim that reducing the travel speed of large vehicles will lead to a reduction in the severity of crashes, thereby reducing the number of fatal and serious injuries and reducing property damage.

“The supposed lessening of crash severity was devised to put a safety purpose on an economic tool,” OOIDA stated. “Neither the Notice, the safety proponents of the rule, nor the speed limiting device provide evidence or data demonstrating how the actual use of speed limiters lowers crash severity or improves highway safety.”

In its 41 pages of comments, OOIDA cites several examples from members and other truckers who currently drive speed-limited vehicles, and the challenges they face. OOIDA asks the agencies “to recognize these issues and withdraw the rulemaking proceeding.”

“Trucks operating at speeds lower than the speed limit create rolling roadblocks and barriers to on-ramps that frustrate automobile drivers,” the comments stated. “Trying to achieve or maintain highway speed, those drivers make unpredictable and dangerous decisions that cause accidents. Speed-limited drivers must drive more hours under these more difficult driving conditions, impacting their safety and health, in order to earn the same compensation. The agencies have not taken into consideration these serious safety, health and economic consequences, especially on small-business motor carriers.”

The Association cited split speeds as the primary concern for public safety, something a speed limiter mandate would exacerbate, particularly in states like Texas, where speed limits are as high as 85 mph. Those differentials, OOIDA argues, create more dynamic interaction between cars and trucks than if they were all traveling predictably at the prevailing rate of speed. Only nine states still impose differential speed limits for cars and heavy-duty trucks. OOIDA has lobbied extensively to encourage states to move to uniform speeds for all vehicles.

“OOIDA members reported that operating on roads with split speed limits was dangerous and contributed to driver stress and fatigue because they were required to be alert to greater numbers of interactions with other vehicles and a constantly changing traffic dynamic. The stress had a deleterious consequence on their health,” the comments stated.

Studies cited by OOIDA, including a 2005 analysis of speed differentials on rural interstate highways by Dr. Steven L. Johnson of the University of Arkansas, show that as the speed of an individual vehicle deviates from the mean traffic speed on a roadway, the number of interactions between vehicles increases and the potential for accidents increases. Johnson’s study found that the frequency of interactions with other vehicles by a vehicle traveling 10 mph below the posted speed limit was 227 percent higher than those moving at traffic speed. OOIDA pointed out that while the NPRM quotes from that same study, it “fails to include his finding that speed differentials lead to more crashes.”

OOIDA’s comments also criticized the agencies’ cost benefit analysis, identifying many deficiencies in the quality of data used, including:

  • Lack of real world data on the travel speeds of heavy vehicles prior to a crash.
  • Small non-representative samples of observed travel speeds.
  • The agencies did not know which crashes in their baseline involved heavy vehicles that were already speed limited.
  • For the safety benefit analysis, the agencies assumed that all vehicles traveling above the speed setting would be limited to that said speed setting, but this does not take into account heavy vehicles traveling downhill.
  • While estimating the safety benefits for single-unit trucks and buses, the agencies utilized non-statistically significant findings. For buses in particular, the agencies “do not have a high degree of confidence the estimated number of lives saved (about one life) can be realized with a 65 mph speed limiter.”
  • In order to generate the safety benefit estimate for buses, the agencies utilized the travel speed of trucks as a proxy for large buses as they did not have the same type of observational travel speed data to supplement the missing travel speeds.

Other national groups who filed comments opposing the proposed mandate or expressing concerns with the current proposal include the National Motorists Association, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Groundwater Association, the National Federation of Independent Business, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, The National Shippers Strategic Transportation Council, The Texas Public Policy Foundation and the Michigan Department of Transportation. Several state trucking associations have also filed comments against the proposed mandate.

The American Trucking Associations, which initially sought a mandate on speed limiters in a petition filed in 2006, filed comments opposing the proposed rule. ATA’s criticism of the proposed mandate is it lacks the necessary data and research demonstrating that “it would not create new safety hazards that might outweigh any safety benefits anticipated by the agencies.”

Other groups that have filed comments in support of the mandate include The Trucking Alliance, Road Safe America, the Truck Safety Coalition, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the National Safety Council, and the National Transportation Safety Board. Parcel delivery service UPS also filed comments in support of the mandate but argued that the limit should be increased to 72 mph to account for states with speed limits set at 75 mph or greater. FedEx Corp. also filed comments in favor of the mandate, and suggested 65 mph as the speed the agencies should adopt. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters also filed comments in favor of the 65 mph mandate, and in support of a retrofit requirement for mechanically controlled engines.

OOIDA’s website, FightingForTruckers.com, has more information about the Association’s opposition to the proposal, as well as ways for truckers to contact their lawmakers via letter and oppose a mandate.

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