Big-Rig Speed Limiters: Safer For Us All, Or Misguided Regulation?

August 25, 2010
Semi trailer

Semi trailer

Could we keep our highways safer as well as cut greenhouse gas emissions (and perhaps some of our reliance on foreign petroleum) all by placing a speed limiter on all the big rigs in the nation?

It’s an idea that, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), could find some new momentum in Washington, D.C.—is part of a new policy push from the Obama administration to improve fuel-efficiency and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions of medium- and heavy-duty trucks.

And if you shrug your shoulders and don’t think it could really add up to much, think on this: Every 1 mph reduction in fuel is said to reduce fuel consumption by about 1 percent. Independently, ABF Freight System Inc. has estimated that a truck running at a maximum speed of 62 mph emits 33.5 fewer tons of CO2 annually than one maxing out at 68 mph.

Separately, the American Trucking Associations and Road Safe America in 2006 petitioned in favor of the rule—which would have required limiters for all trucks with a gross weight exceeding 26,000 pounds—but the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) has been a strong opponent. Back in 2006, the OOIDA argued that “speed limiters at 68 mph on all new trucks could make roadways more dangerous for drivers of all vehicles,” because of the speed differentials it would create between cars and trucks.

According to the IIHS, in 2008 more than 4,000 people died in crashes involving large trucks, yet about 85 percent of those were occupants of other smaller passenger vehicles, motorcyclists, or pedestrians.

In 2007, the Institute found that 64 percent of U.S. drivers favored truck speed governors. NHTSA is in the process of devising and developing new fuel-efficiency standards, beginning with the 2014 model year, for semis and large trucks, so such a regulation could be introduced along with them.

Tryck stopping distances are already much longer than those of cars, the Institute argues, so considering the extra weight and the harm it can do, the consequences of speeding can greatly increase the severity of crashes. A big rig going 75 mph takes about a third longer to come to a stop compared to one going 65 mph, the IIHS says.

That seemingly slight difference in the speed of trucks could save, potentially, hundreds of lives per year.

What do you think? Is this a public-safety issue? Are speeding trucks more dangerous than speeding cars and thus require a firmer hand? Or does this amount to big-brother bullying?


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