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Safety: Are New Top-Speed Limiter Recommendations for Big Rigs Inadequate?



The Obama administration recently released a proposal for new top-speed guidelines for big rigs, but some safety experts say they don’t go far enough. The changes are aimed at lowering carbon dioxide emissions and reducing the risk of traffic fatalities across the country, but the changes would only limit speeds for certain large vehicles.

Get to Know the Proposed Changes

Under the proposed changes from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), all automakers selling new trucks weighing more than 26,000 pounds would need to install speed-limiting devices and set them to the required speed limits (likely between 60 and 68 mph). The rule also would require all motor carriers to maintain the speed limiter and its settings for the full life of the vehicle. Data suggests that lower speeds could potentially save hundreds of lives and as much as $1 billion in fuel costs each year.

The change would create a new federal motor vehicle safety standard (FMVSS) for all newly manufactured vehicles meeting the weight criteria. In other words, the rule would effect school buses, dump trucks, 18-wheelers, and other large commercial vehicles.

Uncover Popular Opinions Regarding the Changes

Some traffic safety groups oppose the proposed changes, and believe a more inclusive proposition makes sense. One safety group co-founder in Atlanta doesn’t understand why the changes would apply only to new trucks being sold. Automakers have installed speed-limiting devices on large commercial vehicles for years, but most organizations do not require drivers to use them. Advocates say a regulatory change stipulating that all trucks outfitted with speed-limiting capabilities use them would truly make a difference in carbon emissions and yearly traffic incidents.

Other opponents don’t want to see any additional regulations on speed within the industry. They believe truck drivers need to have the flexibility to deal with a number of traffic situations, and speed plays a crucial role. These opponents may be more amenable to changes in truck driver training courses, incentives, and behavior-based actions that may reduce unsafe driving behaviors.

Proponents of the change believe the proposal represents a step in the right direction for trucking safety. The rule would give truck drivers and trucking companies some leeway at first, making the changes more gradual and possibly more effective.

Next Steps in the Rulemaking Process

The proposal was released in the Federal Register in early September. After a 60-day period in which anyone can enter a comment about the rule changes, the DOT will review the comments and decide how to proceed. With enough evidence, the agency may issue a new proposal, modify the existing one, or withdraw it. If a rule is approved and added to the rulemaking docket, the agency will post the text of the rule in the Federal Register, making it official. Motor carriers should watch closely for the final ruling and the effective dates provided.

The rulemaking process can happen relatively quickly, or take months to complete. Now is the time to discuss the fairness of the proposed rule with your own organization and consider entering a data-driven public comment regarding your support or opposition.

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