OOIDA: Speed limiter proposal unsafe, doesn't address real problems

| 11/30/2006

Mandatory speed limiters could actually have a negative impact on highway safety and would not address the root causes of excessive speeding.

That's the message the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association delivered loud and clear in letters to two federal agencies countering the American Trucking Association's recent petitions requesting mandatory speed governors.

OOIDA officials sent the letters to the administrators of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration - the two agencies ATA petitioned for rulemakings that would require mandatory speed limiters and prohibit tampering with them.

OOIDA President and CEO Jim Johnston pointed out in the letters the ATA petition lacked any credible evidence that could back up the claim that mandatory speed limiters would improve highway safety.

"OOIDA believes that restricting trucks to speed below 68 mph would provide no safety benefit and would, in fact, have a negative impact on highway safety," Johnston wrote in the letters.

The OOIDA president said ATA's petition is not supported by any scientific study, data or analysis of the actual use of speed limiters or their effect on highway safety.

The Association contends that 68 mph is an appropriate, safe and legal speed on many roads. However, under less-than-normal road conditions, most any rate of speed less than 68 mph may be excessive relative to the adverse condition encountered.

In the letter, Johnston points to a 1991 NHTSA study, "Commercial Motor Vehicle Speed Control Devices," that concluded "incremental benefits of mandatory speed limitation in terms of either crash reduction or lives saved is questionable."

And while any benefits of mandatory speed limitation are "questionable," government-mandated speed limiters most certainly would create additional speed variance on the roads - which increases the risks of accidents, according to another study cited by OOIDA in the letter. In fact, that study concludes that "the frequency of interactions with other vehicles by a vehicle traveling 10 mph below the posted speed limit is 227 percent higher than moving at the traffic speed."

Johnston even reminded the agency administrators in the letters that one of their predecessors, Julie Cirillo who is a former FMCSA associate administrator and chief safety officer, testified that when vehicles deviate from the prevailing speed on a highway, accidents occur.

If excessive speeding is the real issue supposedly being addressed by proposing mandatory speed limiters, Johnston pointed out that the feds should take a long, hard look at the real causes of excessive speeding.

"If the Department of Transportation would like to reduce excessive speeding, then it should directly address its primary causes: the lack of a comprehensive driver training standard and the compensation of drivers by the miles driven or loads hauled," Johnston wrote.

"New truck drivers are often not properly trained and do not know when and how to moderate their speed. Drivers need behind-the-wheel instruction in operating a truck on different types of roads, in different types of traffic and in different weather conditions."

Beyond knowing how to drive properly, Johnston stressed that the motivator behind excessive speeding is all that needs to be addressed - driver pay.

The current prevailing forms of compensation - by the mile and by the load - provide a "direct incentive to drive more miles or to take more loads in a shorter period of time," Johnston wrote.

He pointed out that the difficulty in just getting enough miles to cover the bills is exacerbated by long periods of uncompensated time spent at the docks waiting to load and unload - to the tune of 30 to 40 hours a week.

"Facing such pressures, many OOIDA members have told us that if they were forced to limit the speed of their vehicle preventing them from driving speeds that are otherwise safe and legal, they would quit the business," Johnston wrote.

Rather than safety, the Association believes ATA's speed limiter proposal is all about competition for drivers.

"Motor carriers who have adopted speed limitation policies lose drivers to carriers without such policies, and they have more difficulty recruiting new drivers," Johnston wrote.

"By imposing such technology on all motor carriers, they would eliminate this competitive advantage. This is not a sufficient basis for the FMCSA or NHTSA to impose such a burdensome requirement."

The final point OOIDA raised is that mandating speed limiters by the feds could very well be stepping on some the toes of some states.

In 1995 Congress specifically returned the authority to create speed limits to the individual states. Mandating speed limiters on trucks would, in effect, be imposing split speed limits on state highways, Johnston pointed out.

Johnston encouraged both agencies to look beyond the ATA petition.

"Instead of entertaining this petition, DOT should spend their valuable time and resources pursuing more concrete solutions to truck safety issues," he wrote in conclusion.

- By Jami Jones, senior editor