OOIDA voices opposition to ATA’s speed limiter petitions

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In a letter to two federal agencies, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association on Monday, Nov. 27, voiced its strong opposition to petitions by the American Trucking Associations to mandate speed governors on commercial motor vehicles.

In his letter addressed to the administrators of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, OOIDA President and Chief Executive Officer Jim Johnston outlined the association’s argument that restricting commercial trucks to speeds below 68 mph would provide no safety benefit and would, in fact, have a negative impact on highway safety. Johnston pointed out that on many roads, “operating a truck at or above 68 miles per hour can be appropriate, safe and legal.” Thirty states currently have maximum speed limits of 70 mph or higher on rural interstates.

The ATA filed two petitions Oct. 20: One went to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and seeks to require original equipment manufacturers to activate speed limiters, also called engine governors, on all new trucks at a maximum of 68 mph; the second, to FMSCA, asks the government to make it against the law to tamper with the devices.

OOIDA argued in its letter to the two agencies that ATA’s proposal is supported by no scientific study, data or analysis that speed limiters would have a beneficial effect on highway safety. To the contrary, OOIDA argued that speed limiters would result in increased “speed variance” between trucks and passenger motor vehicles, a well-studied and documented contributor to highway accidents and highway congestion.

Attacking the ATA’s identification of excessive speed as a factor in truck crashes in a government study, Johnston told the two administrators that the FMCSA study cited largely identifies “traveling too fast for conditions” as the real factor in such crashes. “Road design, traffic congestion and weather can render any rate of speed excessive and unsafe,” Johnston wrote. “None of the studies cited by ATA identify 68 miles per hour as the tipping point between safe and unsafe speeds.”

Rather than looking to speed limiters on trucks, OOIDA urged the Department of Transportation to seek better training for drivers to operate trucks safely. The association reiterated its long-held position that new truck drivers simply are not trained properly to operate trucks on different types of roads, in different traffic and weather conditions. OOIDA also encouraged DOT to examine the effect of driver compensation on performance; increased economic pressures that are forcing drivers to drive more miles or take more loads in a shorter period of time, compounded by the long periods of uncompensated waiting time at loading docks, were all incentives for driving at increased or unsafe speeds to make ends meet.

OOIDA also challenged whether FMCSA or NHSTA has the authority to even create a rule that would effectively set speed limits on the highways. It pointed out that Congress specifically returned the authority to regulate highway speeds to the states in 1995. Mandating speed governors on trucks would, in effect, be imposing split speed limits on highways, something many states have already rejected and, in some cases, overturned.

In his final point, Johnston expressed OOIDA’s belief that ATA’s primary motivation in submitting its petitions was to reduce competition among motor carriers. “In announcing this petition,” Johnston wrote, “ATA officials admitted that one purpose of the petition was to reduce the economic advantage of those motor carriers who have chosen not to adopt speed governors over its members who have.” Motor carriers that have adopted speed governors fear they will lose drivers to carriers without speed governors, and they will have more difficulty recruiting new drivers, so mandated technology would eliminate this disadvantage.