Canadian researcher says speed limiters on cars are next

| 11/19/2007

A researcher from Canada says that if speed limiters become mandatory on heavy trucks, the mandate could someday carry over to passenger vehicles.

“The population, in general, may be supportive of the idea of imposing this restriction on the speeds of trucks, but I think the people who drive cars and light trucks should recognize that, if this kind of legislation goes through for trucks, the pressure is going to mount to have the same sort of governors be put on cars and light trucks as well, Barry E. Prentice, director of the University of Manitoba Transport Institute and associate professor of agricultural and food sciences, told “Land Line Now” on XM Satellite Radio.

“After all, why do we have speedometers that go up to 120 or 140 miles an hour when there’s no road that allows you to go that speed?” Prentice asks. “Most of the accidents on our roads that are caused by speeding are actually caused by cars and light trucks and not big tractor trailers. So, I think one of the issues I see coming forward is that we may well find that trucks are the narrow edge of the wedge and after you get governors on trucks, we’ll see them on cars too.”

The top transportation official in the province of Quebec, Julie Boulet, introduced legislation Nov. 14 that included a proposal for mandatory speed limiters on all heavy trucks doing business in the province.

Officials in Ontario are also on the verge of introducing legislation.

On Nov. 14 Prentice made several compelling statements about speed limiters to “Land Line Now.”

“To me, it doesn’t seem like it’s being based on much scientific research,” he said, adding that speed limiters could actually make for a less-safe highway system.

“When you have two traffic groups moving at different speeds, one is going to be trying to pass the other all the time. Therefore, you’re actually going to be increasing the amount of passing by automobiles and small trucks around tractor trailers.

“Continuously, you have cars and other vehicles catching up to slower vehicles. The answer of course is if everybody obeyed the speed limit – if everybody had a halo – then I guess we wouldn’t have any extra speeding because the speed limits are there, but human nature doesn’t seem to work that way.”

Prentice does not deny that slower speeds lead to better fuel economy, but things would get complicated by vehicles classes moving at different speeds.

“We know that you have more consumption of fuel when you have acceleration, speeding up and slowing down, than when you’re going at a constant speed. So, to the extent that trucks are moving at a slower speed, and other cars are speeding up to pass them and slowing down again, we could actually end up with more fuel being consumed by other vehicles on the road which probably outnumber the trucks eight or more to one,” he said.

Prentice says the large motor carrier associations such as the Ontario Trucking Association, Canadian Trucking Alliance and the American Trucking Association, have played the safety card and the environmental card to win public approval.

But Prentice sees speed limiters having more to do with economic decisions.

“Companies that already have the voluntary limiters in place have a more difficult time recruiting owner-operators if they force them to have the governors,” he said.

Then, there’s the issue of jurisdiction.

“In the case of these speed limiters, it’s not at all clear that, say, if Ontario decided to impose this regulation that trucks from Michigan would have to follow the regulation,” Prentice said. “And if they weren’t allowed in because of the regulation, then there would be a charge of a non-tariff barrier in place.”

Prentice says some trucking companies would simply choose to relocate to a jurisdiction that doesn’t impose speed limiters in order to operate more freely.

– By Land Line staff
Interview by Reed Black, “Land Line Now”