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Truck Safety Groups Push Congress For Speed Limiter Mandate

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After failing to get two previous presidential administrations to require trucks to set their speed limiter devices to 65 mph, safety lobbyists are bypassing regulators and taking their case to the new Congress instead.

A coalition led by Road Safe America and the Truck Safety Coalition is using crash statistics and an economic business case to try and convince lawmakers to pass legislation requiring that all heavy-duty trucks use speed limiters as well as install automatic emergency braking (AEB).

"We're very dissatisfied from what we've gotten from DOT [the U.S. Department of Transportation] in the last 12 years, so we're hoping Congress, or even President Trump himself, will get this thing done," Road Safe America president Steve Owings told FreightWaves.

"Certainly, an infrastructure bill could be a good vehicle for this. But since 2006 we've been through Republican and Democratic administrations oversee a rulemaking that has been stuck in limbo at the Department of Transportation, so we also think the president could just ask DOT why they haven't done this yet, and tell them go do it."

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In 2016, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) published a joint notice of proposed rulemaking regarding speed limiting devices for large trucks that received more than 2,000 public comments. "The agency continues to review these comments and determine its next steps," an FMCSA official told FreightWaves.

In a letter sent yesterday to each member in the House and Senate, the safety coalition stated that while speed limiters have been standard in most heavy commercial trucks since the mid-1990s, the United States – unlike Australia, Germany, France, Japan and the United Kingdom – don't require that they be turned on and set.

The group points to an FMCSA study that found trucks not using their speed limiters had a 200 percent higher highway-speed crash rate compared to trucks using speed limiters.

Regarding AEB – which has also fallen victim to a stalled regulatory rulemaking – the groups note that NHTSA found that current-generation AEB systems can prevent more than 2,500 crashes each year. "The agency also found that 166 people will unnecessarily die, and another 8,000 individuals will suffer serious injuries every year a full implementation of AEB is delayed," they point out.

There's a business case to be made too, Owings contends, given that in the U.S. there are on average over 1,000 crashes every day that involve big trucks. "Most of these cause an enormous traffic jam that's extremely negative to the trucking industry. This regulation pays for itself not only by reducing accidents, traffic jams, and the gas that's wasted, but also in lost productivity – it's billions of dollars being dragged out of the economy."

Support in the trucking industry for speed limiter regulations has been mixed depending on the specific proposal and among companies. J.B. Hunt (NASDAQ: JBHT), Knight-Swift Transportation Holdings Inc (NYSE: KNX), and Maverick Transportation, for example, support speed limiters through a safety advocate group, the Trucking Alliance.

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"The Trucking Alliance does support a truck speed limiter requirement and will weigh in when a bill is introduced," Lane Kidd, Managing Director of the Trucking Alliance, told FreightWaves "We preferred endorsing an actual bill, rather than requesting that one be introduced."

The American Trucking Associations (ATA), which advocates for larger carriers, has supported requiring speed limiters set at 65 mph for trucks built after 1992 – but only if nationwide speed limits for both cars and trucks are set at 65 mph as well.

Absent a national speed limit, a speed limiter requirement would "result in wide divergences between the speed of trucks equipped with speed limiters and that of prevailing traffic, depending on local speed limits," and thus potentially creating more safety hazards, ATA stated in comments to the FMCSA-NHTSA 2016 proposal.

On that point the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), which is frequently at odds with ATA on regulations affecting trucking, agrees.

"Highways are safest when all vehicles travel at the same relative speed," said OOIDA President Todd Spencer, commenting on the 2016 rulemaking. "This wisdom has always been true and has not ever changed."

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