Avoiding crashes sometimes prompts need for speed, truckers say

May 23, 2022

Mark Schremmer


Many truck drivers say their opposition to a speed limiter mandate isn’t about cruising down the highway at 80 mph. Rather, they say, it’s about possessing the ability to accelerate to avoid a crash.

Earlier this month, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration published an advance notice of supplemental proposed rulemaking to mandate speed limiters on most commercial motor vehicles.

Commercial motor vehicles with a gross vehicle weight of 26,001 pounds or more and that are equipped with an electric engine control unit capable of being governed would be subject to the mandate.

A speed had not been determined, but previous proposals floated the possibilities of 60, 65 or 68 miles per hour. Considering that speed limits are as high as 80 and 85 mph in parts of the country, the mandate could force trucks to go as much as 25-30 mph slower than the flow of traffic.

As of May 23, the FMCSA had received nearly 12,000 comments on the proposal. A sampling of the comments points to an overwhelming majority opposed to a mandate.

Hundreds of those comments contend that truckers often need to accelerate to avert a potential crash.

“Sometimes you speed up to avoid an accident,” Duke Omari wrote. “Putting speed limiters will lead to many unnecessary accidents that could have been avoided.”

Omari was not alone.

“I have seven years on the road, and more times than not have had to accelerate to avoid a crash or had a car road raging toward me because I’m not doing over 70,” Jeffrey Crowe wrote.

Many of the drivers argue that, if they’re the ones held responsible when there’s a crash, then they should have control of the truck.

“Drivers are ultimately responsible for operation of the vehicle and need to have independent discretion to safely maneuver the vehicle in varying terrain and traffic,” Ivan Voronin wrote. “For example, the speed limiters on manual transmission trucks control the engine speed, without regard to the current selected gear. This could prove to be unsafe for drivers on the Dalton Highway in Alaska, where some of the gradients require being able to use the high engine speeds in order to have enough of the peak torque band of the engine in reserve to ascend the steep grades with heavy loads safely and without a disruption in applied torque.”

Other truck drivers note that trucks are not at fault in the majority of fatal crashes.

According to 2019 statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 90.6% of truck drivers involved in fatal crashes did not receive a moving violation. Even more, 67.1% of the truck drivers in these crashes had no driver-related factors, such as speeding, fatigue, failure to yield or distracted driving. Meanwhile, only 40% of passenger vehicle drivers in these crashes had no driver-related factors cited to them.

“Controlling our speed would be grossly dangerous to professional drivers and the general public,” Kelly Patterson wrote. “The problem with accidents on speed limited roads of 70-plus is not those of us that have made a career out of driving but the people that are late to work. The teen with a new license. The 20-year-old kid with a new car. The angry white-collar professional having an argument with someone via his Bluetooth-enabled car stereo. Inattention is what kills when mixed with speed.

“Enforce stricter mobile device laws. Work with social media providers to disable apps when the vehicle is in motion. I spent two years as a safety specialist for a mega carrier, and I can assure you that the most tragic mistakes and horrific accidents were caused by distraction, not speed.”

FMCSA said it is moving forward with the rulemaking because of concerns about the number of commercial motor vehicle crashes and fatalities at high speeds.

The agency said that in 2019 there were nearly 900 fatal crashes in areas with posted speed limits of 70 mph or more. The statistic did not specify the speed of the trucks in these crashes nor if any of the trucks possessed speed limiters. In addition, the 2019 crash stats show that 1,491 fatal crashes involving large trucks occurred in speed limits of 50 and 55 mph, and 897 occurred in speed limits of 60 and 65 mph.

OOIDA encourages all truck drivers to submit comments on the speed limiter notice before the June 3 deadline. The Association has made the process easy through its Fighting for Truckers website. The public also can go to the Regulations.gov website and enter Docket No. FMCSA-2022-0004. LL