SPEED LIMITERS: OOIDA Foundation questions key benefits of mandate

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line associate editor | 10/4/2016

The research underpinning the costs and benefits of a proposed federal mandate for installing speed limiters in vehicles weighing more than 26,000 pounds is rife with limitations including small nonrepresentative samples of roads and a lack of real-world data on travel speeds, according to a preliminary analysis by the OOIDA Foundation.

The Foundation, which serves as the nonprofit research arm for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, found several areas in which data from a preliminary regulatory-impact analysis for the proposed mandate would call into question the purported benefits that federal agencies say would come from mandating speed limiters in heavy vehicles.

“It is evident throughout the PRIA that the agencies’ calculations and estimates are fully ripe with limitations as even the analysis states that ‘the agency’s estimates have several limitations,’ the primary of which being that ‘the agency does not have real world data on travel speeds at the time of a crash, which necessitates simulations, of crash travel speeds,’” wrote Andrew King, a research assistant at the OOIDA Foundation.

The Foundation’s preliminary report comes almost one month after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Administration finally released a proposed rulemaking that would require commercial trucks and other heavy vehicles to be equipped with a speed-limiting device. The notice of proposed rulemaking has a 60-day comment period that is scheduled to conclude Nov. 7. OOIDA has filed a request seeking a 60-day extension of the comment period, due to the economic significance of the proposal.

The government’s proposed mandate argues that speed limiters would provide a benefit by reducing the number of fatalities that occur in crashes involving heavy vehicles, as well as reducing the severity of injuries and property damage, and argues that speed limiters would lead to less fuel consumption and a reduction of greenhouse gasses. 

OOIDA opposes a government mandate on this issue, pointing to research that contradicts the feds’ claimed “safety benefits” of speed limiters, 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 proposed rulemaking comes more than five years after NHTSA first published notice that it would initiate the rulemaking process on the issue, a time frame that the Foundation says should have given the agencies ample opportunities to address “the significant number of data gaps and limitations that are rampant throughout the current PRIA.”

“It is evident that the agencies have struggled greatly in attempting to justify a rule which prevailing research has demonstrated will have a negative impact on safety,” the Foundation report stated. “Rather than push a speed limiter rulemaking forward with such negligent and questionable research, OOFI requests that the agencies concede to the truth that there is no real-world scientific data which supports a rule that will create speed differentials on our nation’s highways.”   

Among the data gaps and limitations that the Foundation cited in its analysis of the PRIA are the following:

  • Lack of real-world data on the travel speeds of heavy vehicles prior to a crash.
  • Small, nonrepresentative samples of observed travel speeds.
  • Failure to establish which crashes in their baseline involved heavy vehicles that were already speed limited.
  • Failure to include the possibility of lost loads due to delays in delivery time when determining costs, and therefore an overall annual loss of loaded miles.
  • Failure to consider that drivers will receive less loaded miles overall per year because of delayed delivery times, thus reducing their overall income.

The Foundation’s analysis estimates that the additional number of drivers needed to make up for the delayed shipping times associated with slower-traveling trucks would be over 13,700,  and would add as many trucks to the nation’s roadways as well. Along with additional congestion, OOIDA’s analysis say speed limiters are almost certain to have an impact on the issue of detention time.

Citing a 2014 study by the American Transportation Research Institute, the Foundation states that traffic congestion already resulted in more than 728 million hours of lost productivity, or roughly $50 billion in operational costs to the trucking industry. The problem costs the average truck $27,000 for those traveling 150,000 miles annually.

In addition to congestion and detention time, the Foundation says a speed limiter mandate could be “economically inviable for small motor carriers who represent 96 percent of the trucking industry.” According to the agencies’ own PRIA, the savings from a speed-limiting device for a single truck owner are small and sensitive to actual fuel costs. If diesel fuel were to drop below $2.77 per gallon on average, the devices would “generate a negative benefit.”

“Given that the cost savings that can be achieved by the use of a speed limiter are small relative to the total cost of operation, and that these cost savings fluctuate based on the price of fuel, voluntarily utilizing a speed limiter for a small fleet may not be an advisable choice for fleet managers based on cost alone,” the PRIA states.

NHTSA and FMCSA seek public comment on a variety of issues that generally are resolved prior to filing an NPRM – such as the speed at which heavy vehicles should be restricted, the financial impact to small-business truck and bus companies, and whether or not to limit the mandate to new vehicles only or order a retrofit for all trucks. Among the questions the agencies hope to solicit comments from are whether the devices should be set at 60 mph, 65 mph, or 68 mph.

The proposal calls for a three-year lead time from publication of a final rule for manufacturers to meet the proposed requirements.

OOIDA’s website, FightingForTruckers.com, has more information about the Association’s opposition to the mandate, as well as ways for truckers to contact their lawmakers and oppose a mandate. You can also file comments on the proposal here and here.   

The joint rulemaking was prompted by a 2006 petition from the American Trucking Associations and Road Safe America.

Under the proposed rule, NHTSA will have jurisdiction over newly manufactured trucks and could, through this rulemaking process, mandate that all new trucks be equipped with activated speed-limiting devices.

While not publicly disclosed, FMCSA’s ability to regulate speed limiters would be limited to trucks currently on the road. Although mandating retrofits or activation of the device would be a stretch of the agency’s authority, the agency would be able to prohibit trucks without activated speed-limiting devices from operating in interstate commerce. 

Related stories:
OOIDA to Senate Approps: Don’t force final rule on speed limiters
OOIDA issues Call-To-Action on speed limiters

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