Speed limiters have been under consideration for more than a decade, with the interests of large trucking companies and safety advocates clashing against those of owner operators and small fleets. And on May 25, House Lawmakers introduced new legislation that reignites an old debate.
Spearheaded by Representatives Lucy McBath (D-Georgia) and John Katko (R-New York), the Cullum Owings Large Truck Safe Operating Speed Act would mandate the use of speed limiters on trucks. This bipartisan bill aims to enhance fuel efficiency and improve overall road safety, including reducing the number of serious or fatal crashes involving trucks. The bill’s namesake, 22-year-old Atlanta resident Cullum Owings, was tragically killed in a car-truck accident in 2002 while on his way to college.
Mandatory speed limiters have been widely expected to come up as an issue under the Biden administration, so this proposed legislation comes as no surprise to those of us in the trucking industry.
The list of bill endorsers includes the Truckload Carriers Association, the Trucking Alliance, AAA, the Institute for Safer Trucking, Road Safe America, the Safe Operating Speed Alliance, and the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys.
“Millions of motorists are within a few feet of 80,000-pound tractor trailer rigs each day and there is no reason why that equipment should be driven at 75 or 80 or 85 miles per hour,” said Steve Williams, who is the chairman and CEO of Maverick USA, co-founder and president of the Trucking Alliance, and a former chairman of the American Trucking Associations.
If a truck is involved in a speed-related accident, their crash dynamics make it far more likely to result in serious injuries and fatalities. Advocates of the bill say that capping truck speeds at or below 65 mph (or 70 mph with use of automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control) will save lives.
Critics of the bill include the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), which says speed limiters are dangerous for all highway users. OOIDA argues that creating a speed differential between cars and trucks will increase congestion and make it more difficult for truck drivers to change lanes and accommodate merging traffic. This will ultimately lead to more crashes - the exact issue the bill is trying to prevent.
“Studies and research have already proven what we were all taught long ago in driver’s ed classes – traffic is safest when vehicles travel at the same relative speed,” Todd Spencer, OOIDA President, explained. “What the motoring public should know is that when they are stuck behind trucks on long stretches of highway, those trucks are limited by a device to a speed well under the posted limit. This proposal would make that the norm for every truck on the road.”
OOIDA also notes that while large carriers mainly use speed limiters as a way to manage their fleet, single truck operators or small fleets typically do not require them. Also, owner-operators are paid by the mile. As such, OOIDA believes this is an attempt to take away one of the few economic advantages available to small-business truckers.
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