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Feds May Turn to Tech to Limit Max Speed for U.S. Truckers

Federal regulators are taking a new look at whether to require automatic systems that limit a truck’s speed, one of the National Transportation Safety Board’s most wanted safety improvements.

J.B. Hunt, Truck, Trucking
Shutterstock/Felipe Sanchez
(TNS) — Federal regulators are taking a new look at whether to require automatic systems that limit a truck’s speed, one of the National Transportation Safety Board’s most wanted safety improvements.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s decision to look at speed limiting systems in trucks weighing more than 26,000 pounds came more than a decade after the agency and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration first broached the issue in 2011. It took another five years, 2016, to announce that they were developing regulations. Then nothing until now.

“They simply cannot do this fast enough,” said Steve Owings, co-founder of the advocacy group Road Safe America, whose son Cullum was killed when a speeding truck slammed into his car stopped in traffic. “There’s absolutely no question that if speed limiters are required to be used at a reasonable top speed, it will save a lot of lives.”

FMCSA said it was acting now because the U.S. Transportation Department’s National Roadway Safety Strategy “identified speed as a significant factor in fatal crashes and speed management as a primary tool to reduce serious injuries and fatalities.”

Initially, speed limiters had not been included when the strategy was rolled out in January in response to a huge uptick in highway fatalities despite a drop in traffic due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Deaths increased by an unprecedented 18.4% during the first six months of 2021 compared with 2020, according to federal statistics. That’s after they rose 7% to 38,680 in 2020 from 36,096 in 2019, while vehicle miles traveled declined by 13% over the same period.

Speeding-related fatalities alone rose 17% from 2019 to 2020, according to the transportation safety administration.

NJ Advance Media reported last year that the number of people killed in truck crashes continued to rise while federal officials and Congress ignored proven safety solutions. Deaths in crashes involving large trucks rose 29% over a decade, to 4,895 in 2020 from 3,781 in 2011.

The National Transportation Safety Board first recommended speed limiters in 1995, and added it to its most-wanted list of safety improvements in 2019.

The motor carrier administration did not propose a maximum speed for trucks, saying that would wait until the proposed rule was drafted sometime next year. The agency also said it would act on its own without the highway traffic safety administration.

When the motor carrier administration proposed the original rule in 2016, it attributed more than 10,000 deaths over a 10-year period to crashes where the speed of the truck “likely contributed to the severity” of the accident. That’s 1,000 deaths a year.

“It’s really tragic when you think about the lives lost since 2016 that would have been saved with the technology,” said Peter Kurdock, general counsel for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, an alliance of consumer, health, law enforcement and insurance industry groups.

He called the announcement “certainly a step in the right direction.”

Chris Spear, president and chief executive of the American Trucking Associations, welcomed what he called “a constructive, data-driven approach to the issue of truck speed limiters.”

“We look forward to working with the agency to shape a final rule that is consistent with our policy supporting the use of speed limiters in conjunction with numerous other safety technologies,” Spear said.

Most heavy trucks already have the devices installed, though there are no standards for using them nor requirements to turn them on. Even back in 2016, speed limiters were in 77% of heavy trucks, according to NHTSA.

“We can think of no better, or more readily available, safety solution than setting already existing speed limiters in the largest vehicles on our roads,” said Harry Adler, co-chair and principal of the Institute for Safer Trucking, another advocacy group.

© 2022 Advance Local Media LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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