Speeding, fatigue, and improper lane change are three of the biggest causes of commercial truck accidents, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Speeding remains a persistent problem that has proven especially difficult to solve.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently reported that driving faster than the posted speed limit was a major factor in 18 percent of all fatal accidents in which a commercial truck caused the crash.
Scarier yet, Texas is consistently at or near the top in the number of truck accidents per year, number of truck accident fatalities per year, and the percentage of truck accidents in proportion to all accidents per year.
In an effort to lower the number of truck accidents caused by speeding, the Texas Trucking Association has pushed the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) to require all commercial truck carriers to install speed limiters in their vehicles. A speed limiter is a device that restricts a vehicle from exceeding a preset speed.
Texas’ speed limit of 70 miles per hour is one of the highest speed limits in the U.S., but it doesn’t stop there.
State law grant the Texas Transportation Commission the power to establish a maximum speed limit of as much as 85 miles per hour if a roadway can accommodate that speed.
In 2012, Texas became the first state with a maximum speed limit of 85 miles per hour, by allowing motorists to drive legally at this speed on a 41-mile stretch of highway southeast of Austin.
But according to John D. Esparza, President of the Texas Trucking Association, speed limiters in commercial trucks would save lives, and lower the money truck carriers spend on gasoline.
“Slowing down traffic simply saves lives,” Esparza wrote in a recent op-ed piece. “It saves fuel. It saves money in the form of reduced congestion, reduced accidents and insurance costs. It just makes sense.”
But some trucking groups oppose speed limiters, because they believe the devices would create a speed differential that would cause havoc on the nation’s roads.
A spokesperson for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) said speed differentials “lead to more crashes and promote road rage among other motorists.”
Amy Witherite, partner at Eberstein and Witherite, disagrees.
“Speed differentials is a fancy term that means cars are traveling on the road at different speeds,” she stated. “What some of the truck groups are arguing is that speed limiters would create an imbalance in the rate of speed of all vehicles on the road. Smaller cars would go faster than commercial trucks, and groups opposed to limiters think that would cause more accidents. But that’s just not true. If commercial trucks drive at the speed limit, it would actually lower the rate of speed of all other cars that share the road with them.”
Witherite also believes that limiters could change the mentality of some truck drivers.
“Taking away the ability of commercial truck drivers to exceed the speed limit could help instill a long-term view of driving at the speed limit as a beneficial thing. And over time, that could change how commercial drivers think about speed and safety.”
The USDOT announced in August 2016 that it was proposing new regulations requiring all commercial vehicles with a weight rating exceeding 26,000 pounds to install speed limiters.
“There are significant safety benefits to this proposed rulemaking,” stated U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “In addition to saving lives, the projected fuel and emissions savings make this proposal a win for safety, energy conservation, and our environment.”
The proposal would require speed limiters with a preset maximum speed of 60, 65, and 68 miles per hour.
USDOT estimates the new regulations could save more than $1 billion in fuel costs per year.
If it were approved, commercial trucking companies who operate interstate vehicles would have to install the limiters based on the final preset speed limit that the government designates.
The new proposal is still open for public comment until October.
After that month, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association (FMCSA), would adjust the proposal based on public feedback.
The NHTSA and FMCSA would then create a final version that would not be subject to public comment.
The USDOT hopes to deliver the proposal to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for approval sometime before the end of 2016.
But it would likely not become law until two years after the final version is submitted to the OMB.
The American Trucking Associations (ATA), the leading industry membership organization, has already released a statement in strong support of the proposal.
“In addition to slowing truck speeds, ATA believes in slowing down all traffic,” the statement read in part. “It is long past time for NHTSA and FMCSA to move ahead with this rule.”