Federal regulators are seeking to forcibly lower the speeds of semi-trucks, buses and other large vehicles by installed devices that would cap their top speed. The measure has been proposed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). It would set the maximum speed for these large vehicles at either 60 mph, 65 mph or 68 mph, depending on the feedback they receive from the public.
Top NHTSA administrator Mark Rosekind called the theory behind the proposal, “Basic physics.” That is, the faster a vehicle travels, the greater force the impact is going to be. When we’re talking about vehicles this large, the potential for damage is astronomical. In fact, regulators say that if this proposal is adopted, it has the potential to save somewhere between 162 to 500 lives every year. That could mean as many as half of the 1,000 people who die every year in accidents caused by speeding large trucks. What’s more, it could reduce the number of serious injuries by 550 or so while slashing the number of minor injuries by as much as 10,300 a year. Not only that, but the agency estimates it could means fuel savings and greenhouse gas emissions reductions that would total nearly $850 million a year.
Unsurprisingly, some in the trucking industry is not enthused. There has been grumbling about the fact that truckers would need to be on the road longer and this will mean not just reduced profits for trucking firms, but also lower efficiency in many other economic sectors.
The NHTSA sees it a different way. Currently, there is a negative externality here, where one party (the public) burdens most of the cost while the other (the trucking industry) enjoys the benefit. It’s the public that suffers when high travel speeds produce more serious crashes that result in death, injury and property damage. Meanwhile, the trucking industry sees the benefit of lower costs and greater profits. But this proposed rule, the agency opines, is actually beneficial for both parties because lower speeds will result in improved fuel efficiency. That means the net benefit for this measure would be somewhere between $1.1 billion and $5 billion every single year.
Still, the measure does have the support of the American Trucking Association and nine of the biggest carriers in the industry. Leaders in those organizations noted that speed is a factor in one-third of all motor vehicle accidents and 23 percent of all trucking accidents. These agencies are, however, pushing for a reduction of speed among all vehicles, not just large trucks. There is concern about the cost to retrofit older trucks. Vehicles built before 1990 don’t have the capacity to accept the technology.
The rule would only apply to vehicles with a weight of 26,000 pounds or more. The thinking goes that these vehicles carry the heaviest loads and it’s been shown time and again that even small increases in speed for these vehicles is going to have a huge impact on how hard the vehicle hits in a collision.
This idea isn’t entirely new. It was first floated by safety advocacy group Roadsafe America back in 2006. The non-profit agency was founded by a Georgia couple whose college-age son was killed by a speeding tractor-trailer as he returned to school from Thanksgiving break.
If the rule is enacted, it probably still wouldn’t take effect until at least after 2018. The rule would make it the responsibility of motor carriers operating commercial vehicles in interstate commerce to maintain the speed-limiting devices either at or below the designated speed for the total life of the vehicle.
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US DOT Wants Electronic Devices to Stop Trucks From Speeding, Aug. 26, 2016, By Clarissa Hawes, Trucks.com
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