Carrier consensus on speed limiter mandate: 65 mph and retroactive; truckers remain ‘vehemently’ opposed

Carries and trucking trade groups offered mixed, but strong opinions on the DOT’s proposed speed limiter mandate. Though most agreed a 65 mph speed limit was best of the three options presented by the DOT, most argued further research — and another rule proposal — are needed before the agencies proceed with a final rule.Carries and trucking trade groups offered mixed, but strong opinions on the DOT’s proposed speed limiter mandate. Though most agreed a 65 mph speed limit was best of the three options presented by the DOT, most argued further research — and another rule proposal — are needed before the agencies proceed with a final rule.

Though the majority of commenters who filed formal feedback with the U.S. DOT on its proposal to mandate speed governor use in the trucking industry adamantly oppose such a rule, most comments from fleets — albeit large ones — offer support for the mandate and provided regulators constructive guidance on what a final rule should look like.

The 90-day public comment period on the September-issued Notice of Proposed Rulemaking closed late Wednesday. The proposed rule was developed and published jointly by the DOT agencies the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. See CCJ’s coverage of the rule and its contents at this link.

Several prominent commenters said the DOT’s September-issued proposal was too incomplete and requires another iteration before being made a final rule. But most commenters, as noted above, stated strong opposition to any form of speed limiter mandate.

The American Trucking Associations, the Truckload Carriers Association and the newer Trucking Alliance — trade groups that represent fleets large and small — all proposed a 65 mph speed limit for the rule. ATA, however, says it can’t support the DOT’s proposed rule until regulators produce more data.

“ATA cannot support the proposed rulemaking, absent additional data and research demonstrating that it would not create new safety hazards that might outweigh any safety benefits anticipated by the agencies. In addition, the agencies failed to adequately explore alternative emerging technologies that may soon render speed limiters obsolete, by addressing the same concerns without creating the potential risks of the proposed rule,” ATA wrote in its comments. “In short, the NPRM leaves too many important questions unanswered—questions that the agencies cannot simply shrug their collective shoulders at.”

TCA says its also advocates for a 65 mph limit. “We recognize that traveling too fast for conditions is one of the most prominent reasons for accidents/safety events on our roads today. However, we would be remiss if we did not recognize that over ninety five percent of the hours driven are on our nation’s highways, thus concluding that the majority of our industry is operating at speeds consistent with highway/interstate travel,” the group said. “In recognizing that, we must conclude that we, as an industry, have a safety obligation to responsibly operate our vehicles at speeds in which we can effectively control and limit the opportunity for accidents.”

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Most carriers who commented agreed the DOT should adopt a 65 mph speed limit, and the mandate should retroactively apply to trucks already in use, not just new trucks rolling out of factories, they said.

“It is unfortunate that there is not more science to support a specific speed recommendation contained within the NPRM. As a result, CTG recommends a maximum speed of 65 mph,” wrote Covenant Transportation Group (No. 41 in the CCJ Top 250). “Theoretically, consistent speeds of 65 mph may reduce congestion caused by one truck passing another with a minimal speed difference of just a few miles per hour, or less.”

“We truly believe the benefits achieved in saving lives and reducing injuries by controlling the maximum speed of commercial motor vehicles far outweigh any argument against the rule,” wrote J.B. Hunt (No. 6 in the CCJ Top 250).

Werner Enterprises (No. 11) says while it supports an industry-wide mandate for maximum truck speeds, the proposed rule presents several “deficiencies,” the carrier says, that need to be addressed before a permanent rule is issued. “Beyond the consideration of interactions between cars and speed-limited trucks, the proposed rule only applies to newly manufactured trucks and therefore, neglects to calculate the safety risk between non-limited trucks and newly manufactured speed-limited trucks driving on our roadways,” the carrier said in its comment. “If the rule moves forward, the agencies will need to consider all aspects to achieve compliance of the final rule speed standard with the significant majority of operating trucks to reduce the safety risk of speed differentials.”

C.R. England, meanwhile, urged NHTSA and FMCSA to adopt the rule as quickly as it can. It also wrote that since most trucks built since the early 1990s are manufacturer-equipped with the ability to have their speeds electronically limited, the mandate should cover all vehicles, says C.R. England (No. 19) in its comment. “C.R. England urges FMCSA and NHTSA to impose the rule on all existing heavy vehicles either through activation of ECM technology already available on most vehicles or through the installation of approved retrofitted speed limiting devices,” the Salt Lake City-based carrier said. “There is a strong correlation between speed and crash severity in truck accidents; the higher the speed of the truck, the more severe the injuries of those involved. Instituting the speed limiter rule will not only save lives and prevent catastrophic injury; it will also make significant contributions to safer driving and reduce collisions.”

Many commenters posed questions for the two agencies responsible for the rule, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Such comments pressed the agencies on the scant nature of the proposal, which failed to not only specify a mandated speed but to propose a concrete scope for the rule.

The enforcer community’s Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, for instance, called for the agency to flesh out the rule further and publish a so-called Supplemental Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to give the industry a look at a more complete rule proposal and to provide feedback. “This will allow stakeholders to fully evaluate the proposal and provide constructive input, ensuring more effective deployment and enforcement of speed limiters,” CVSA writes. The group said it supports a speed limiter mandate overall.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, a vocal and staunch critic of the speed limiter mandate from the onset, filed a 41-page comment tearing down the rule and regulators’ intentions. OOIDA “vehemently” opposes the rule, it says, calling it damaging to owner-operators’ and independents’ ability to compete in the marketplace against larger carriers. The group also says the rule’s initiation is illegal, given new stipulations passed last year by Congress in the FAST Act highway bill. Rules classified as “major rules,” as the limiter mandate is, have to be initiated as an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking or a Negotiated Rulemaking, says OOIDA.

OOIDA contends a speed limiter mandate would also damage highway safety efforts, rather than bolster them. As noted in prior CCJ coverage, OOIDA says the speed differential created between trucks and other vehicles on the highway poses a much greater safety risk than higher truck speeds. “Instead of relying upon concrete evidence and data about actual motor carrier and driver experience associated with speed limiters, the agencies have resorted to postulating a theoretical reduction in crash severity and environmental benefits.”

The Western States Trucking Association also said neither NHTSA nor FMCSA have the legal authority to promulgate a rule to mandate speed limiters. “Contrary to the statements made in the preamble, the joint proposed rules are not based on any safety need but, rather, on a misguided effort to use federal traffic safety laws to govern emissions of greenhouse gases from trucks. Neither NHTSA nor FMCSA has the legal authority to misuse federal law in that manner. Accordingly, the commenters believe the joint proposed rules are misguided, counterproductive, illegal and dangerous,” writes the Texas Public Policy Foundation, who developed and filed comments on behalf of Western States, a Texas-based trucker and a Texas-based carrier.

Comments from hundreds, if not thousands, of truckers show they agree with OOIDA’s and WSTA’s assertions. The docket, which contains nearly 4,500 comments total, is brimming with comments from truck operators framing the rule as unsafe, overly intrusive and unnecessary.

CCJ sister site Overdrive has published a roundup of comments from owner-operator and truck driver commenters. See that story at this link.

Purported safety groups like Advocates for Auto and Highway Safety and the Truck Safety Coalition both asked the DOT to limit speeds to 60 mph and make the mandate industry-wide.