Speed Limiters Could Reduce Truck Crashes and Save Lives
In August 2016, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) proposed a law that would require large trucks and buses to drive with speed limiters — devices that automatically regulate a vehicle’s maximum speed — in effort to reduce fatal truck crashes and lower commercial fuel costs.
Supporters of the proposal say it will save lives and reduce fuel consumption. In contrast, trucking companies and their lobbying organizations argue that data supporting speed limiters (which are sometimes also called “speed governors”) is lacking, and that the devices could actually increase crash rates.
Why Should Trucks Use Speed Limiters?
As automobiles of all sizes employ better safety technology and improve their fuel efficiency, speed limits have adapted. In 1973, a federal law mandated that all states limit highway speed to 55 miles per hour (mph) to curb fuel demand and decrease crash-related deaths. In 1987, though, when energy consumption was less of a concern, Congress allowed individual states to adopt a maximum speed limit up to 65 mph.
In 1995, states received complete control over speed limits within their borders, and since then, 41 states have adopted speed limits equal to or higher than 70 mph. Six states now have maximum limits up to 80 mph, and one state even has a maximum limit of 85 mph. As a result, the federal government has grown concerned that speed laws are too lax, especially for heavy-duty trucks.
The NHTSA’s proposal would require all newly-manufactured vehicles weighing over 26,000 pounds to come equipped with integrated speed-limiting devices. The pros and cons of the three proposed mph limits for the devices—60 mph, 65 mph, and 68 mph—remain in discussion, but highway safety authorities generally agree that they would help protect the public from devastating truck accidents.
“There are significant safety benefits to this proposed rulemaking,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement regarding the legislation. “In addition to saving lives, the projected fuel and emissions savings make this proposal a win for safety, energy conservation, and our environment.”
Understanding the Benefits of Speed Limiters
There are several key arguments that highway safety experts make on behalf of speed limiter technology, including the following:
- The increase in traffic deaths may be related to higher vehicle speed limits. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reported that 33,000 deaths between 1993 and 2013 were directly attributable to increased traffic speed. Since 2009, annual fatalities involving large trucks have increased steadily; in 2015 alone, there were 3,852 deaths due to large truck crashes. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) estimates that approximately 10 percent of highway traffic deaths today involve a large truck.
- The distance required to completely stop increases as the weight, size, and speed of the vehicle grow. Consider two vehicles traveling at 65 mph: a standard mid-size car that weighs between 3,000 and 4,000 pounds and a standard semi-truck weighing up to 80,000 pounds. The car needs approximately 316 feet to stop, whereas the semi-truck needs at least 525 feet — almost the length of two football fields — to reach a complete standstill.
- Fuel cost significantly increases with vehicle speed. Beyond the “ideal” speed of 55 mph, all vehicles become less fuel efficient as they go faster. Cars and trucks are 3 percent less efficient at 60 mph, 8 percent less efficient at 65 mph, 17 percent less efficient at 70 mph, 23 percent less efficient at 75 mph, and a whopping 28 percent less efficient at 80 mph. If the U.S. speed limit were reset to 55 mph, we would save 1 billion barrels of oil per year.
- Limited speed has little to no impact on productivity. On average, travel time increases only 2 to 3 minutes per hour for every decrease of 10 mph — a fair tradeoff considering the safety concerns an additional 10 mph can create for a big rig’s ability to stop in an emergency. Additionally, companies who already use speed limiters have reported an increase in equipment lifespan.
Even though speed limiters can address all the above issues, the government’s August 2016 proposal has struggled to gain traction thanks to trucking industry opposition. The American Trucking Association (ATA) says it supports reducing speeds for all vehicles, but not solely for commercial trucks.
The ATA’s and other opposing groups’ main argument against mandatory speed limiters is that they would make cars and trucks travel at very different speeds on some highways where the speed limit for passenger cars is above 70 mph. The ATA says it’s concerned that the problem of passenger vehicles traveling near speed-limited trucks could frustrate drivers and even lead to road-rage incidents. Additionally (and perhaps more importantly), trucking companies and their lobbyists have balked at the estimated $845 million in implementation costs for the industry.
Beyond the trucking industry opposition, the speed limiter legislation — along with several other important measures that could increase safety in the trucking industry — hit another snag earlier this year when President Trump placed it on hold via executive order. Unfortunately, it appears the reforms needed to reverse the trend of rising annual truck crash fatalities won’t receive serious consideration anytime soon.
Injured in a Trucking Accident? Contact Trucking Accident Lawyer Morgan Adams Today
If you or your someone you know has suffered injuries or even died in a devastating truck crash, Truck Wreck Justice Attorney Morgan Adams is here to help. With years of experience and a sole focus on large vehicle cases, Morgan Adams has the expertise and resources needed to guide you through a complex trucking accident claim and fight for justice on your behalf.
Please contact Truck Wreck Justice at (866) 580-4878 or fill out our online contact form if you need help. We offer free initial consultations to assess your situation and discuss your legal options, and we handle cases on a contingent fee basis, which means that you won’t pay attorney’s fees unless we achieve a financial recovery on your behalf.
Driving more efficiently. (n.d.). Fueleconomy.gov. Retrieved from https://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/driveHabits.jsp
Fatality facts: large trucks. (2016, November). Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Retrieved from http://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/t/large-trucks/fatalityfacts/large-trucks
Lund, A. (2017, February 23). Why lower speed limits and truck speed limiters will save lives. Trucks.com. Retrieved from https://www.trucks.com/2017/02/23/speed-limiters-trucks-save-lives/
Trucks need more time to stop. (2017). Utah Department of Transportation. Retrieved from https://www.udot.utah.gov/trucksmart/motorist-home/stopping-distances/
U.S. DOT proposes speed limiters on large commercial vehicles [press release]. (2016, August 16). Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Retrieved from https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/newsroom/us-dot-proposes-speed-limiters-large-commercial-vehicles