Speed caps will cause crashes, jam highways, truckers say
Truckers are warning that a government plan to electronically limit the speed of tractor-trailers will lead to highway traffic jams and possibly an increase in deadly run-ins with cars.
More than 150 people, most identifying themselves as independent truckers, have filed comments recently with the government about the proposed rule, unveiled last month by two federal agencies. There were only a few comments in favor.
The government has proposed requiring electronic speed limiters on all trucks and buses over 26,000 pounds manufactured after the regulation goes into effect. Speeds could be limited to 60, 65 or 68 miles per hour when the rule is finalized after a comment period that ends Nov. 7.
Regulators and others favoring speed limiters say the rule is supported by simple physics: If trucks travel slower, the impact of a crash will be less severe and fewer people will be injured or killed. But truckers say the government is actually creating conditions for more collisions by focusing on the severity of the crash while ignoring the dynamic of trucks and cars traveling at different speeds.
Truckers also want to travel as far as they can in the hours they’re allowed to drive under federal rules.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration analyzed data from 2004 through 2013 and found that on average 1,044 people died per years in crashes involving heavy trucks on roads with speed limits of at least 55 mph.
The agency also found that if truck speeds were limited to 60 mph, 162 to 498 lives per year would be saved because the impact of a crash would be less severe. At 65 mph, up to 214 lives would be saved, and as many as 96 would be saved with a 68 mph limit.
But truckers say slowing them down increases the chances of trucks being hit from behind by cars allowed to go 70 mph or more. Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, the largest group of independent truckers, says most car-truck crashes on freeways where traffic is going the same direction involves a car rear-ending a truck.
“The net effect of their rule means that the truck will be running slower still,” Spencer said. “That’s a crash scenario that’s more severe.”
NHTSA statistics show that of all the fatal crashes – not limited to freeway driving – between big trucks and passenger vehicles in 2014, the latest year available, about 15 percent involved cars rear-ending large trucks.
The Motor Carrier Safety Administration has reported that of 438,000 crashes involving large trucks in 2014, the front of the truck was the impact point in 38 percent of them. The rear of the truck was hit in 24 percent.