While all roadways post the maximum speed limit vehicles should travel, some government agencies have proposed requiring all heavy-duty trucks to install a device that limits the top speed they can achieve. While proponents say this measure will create safer roads, opponents argue the opposite, saying it's dangerous to enact.
Speed Limiters for Trucks
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) proposal would require every new multipurpose passenger vehicle, bus, and truck that has a gross vehicle weight of over 26,000 pounds to come installed with a device called a speed limiter. As the name suggests, speed limiters cap the maximum speed that these heavy-duty vehicles can travel. The agencies currently haven't settled on a speed, and have suggested anywhere between 60 to 68 miles per hour (mph).
Large Trucks and Highway Accidents
As a result of their size differences, passenger vehicles are usually at a severe disadvantage when they're involved in a collision with a truck. In fact, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) 3,852 people died in large truck crashes in 2015. Of that total, 2,646 were passenger vehicle occupants. Additionally, 97 percent of vehicle occupants killed in a crash involving a large truck and a passenger vehicle were in the passenger vehicle.
However, further studies have gone on to indicate that passenger-vehicle drivers contribute disproportionately to fatal crashes involving a truck and a passenger vehicle.
It is clear that the relationship between large trucks and passenger vehicle is complicated, and there are many factors to assess to fully address road safety considerations.
Reducing Speed to Decrease Accidents
Both the FMCSA and NHTSA say that the aim of the proposal is to save lives and make our roads safer. A 2012 federally-funded study conducted by the American Transportation Research Institute and the Virginia Tech University Transportation Institute showed that reducing speed also cuts down on the number of truck crashes. NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind points out that "small increases in speed have large effects on the force of impact," and U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx called the proposal "a win for safety."
Lower Speeds Conserve Fuel
Along with increasing safety, the FMCSA and NHTSA also say that requiring new trucks to have a speed limiter would help conserve fuel. For years, experts have told drivers that if they want to save money at the gas pump, they need to drive slower. The same is true for large trucks, especially since they can weigh thousands of pounds more than cars. Advocates estimate that requiring speed limiters could save millions of gallons of fuel every year and around $1.1 billion in fuel costs.
Challengers Make Opposite Safety Claim
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) is arguing against the idea of speed limiters on trucks, saying that the exact opposite will happen and this proposal will make the roads less safe. OOIDA says that these devices would create such large speed differences between trucks and passenger vehicles that the roads would become more dangerous.
They point out that highways are safe and efficient when all vehicles are traveling at similar speeds. Others in the trucking industry believe that if the mandate passes, a national maximum speed limit of 65 mph should also pass to keep the differential between trucks and cars equal.
Speed Limiters Would Create Rolling Roadblocks
Those against speed limiters also say that capping a truck's speed would create more rolling roadblocks, a term used to describe what happens when trucks are in both lanes and traffic behind them can't get around. They go on to say that creating conditions like this would only make our highways more inefficient and lead to unsafe circumstances as other drivers take more aggressive chances to get around the trucks.
The debate on a maximum speed limit for trucks looks to continue for some time as both sides make their cases for and against this recent proposal.