Mandatory speed limiters will cause more deaths

May 21, 2019

Tyson Fisher


Whenever there is a high-profile truck-involved crash, mainstream media is plagued with erroneous information from various groups pushing a certain agenda. The recent crash in Colorado on Interstate 70 is no exception, evoking calls for mandatory speed limiters.

Among the groups using the isolated tragedy to support its agenda is Road Safe America. According to its website, the group advocates for legislation that:

  • Requires speed limiters set at 65 mph.
  • Change compensation for all truckers to allow them to earn a professional wage, commensurate with the responsibilities they shoulder. This includes pay for all hours worked, regardless of whether their truck is moving, including overtime.
  • Increase minimum insurance requirements.
  • Establish standardized training requirements.
  • Require the use of proven safety systems such as automatic emergency braking, electronic stability control, and lane departure warning.
  • Only allow adaptable cruise control that has active braking.
  • Intrastate truck drivers should have the same requirements as interstate.
  • Mandatory sleep apnea testing.
  • Stop allowing truck drivers to drive while taking prescription opioid drugs that clearly say not to operate heavy machinery.

Some of these are reasonable. The vast majority, not so much. We’ll revisit this list in a moment.

On top of the list is a speed limiter requirement. Steve Owings founded Road Safe America after his son was killed in a truck-involved crash. The truck was going 8 mph over the posted limit using cruise control. Road Safe America has an emotional investment that people can understand. When something tragic happens to a loved one, our emotional response is to do something about it. In Road Safe America’s case, it wants to prevent this from happening to someone else by way of passing safety legislation.

In an op-ed submitted in at least two Colorado publications, including The Burlington Record and The Denver Post, Road Safe America used the recent tragic crash on I-70 to highlight the need for mandatory speed limiters.

It’s a tactic beloved by politicians: Convince people when they are vulnerable.

Road Safe America claims that had that truck been speed limited, the crash would have been prevented or significantly reduced the injuries and deaths. It’s worth noting that the truck was going 85 mph.

In the op-ed, Road Safe America cites a Texas A&M Transportation Institute study which found that “‘speeding’ was one of the driving behaviors that ‘had the most impact on CMV (commercial motor vehicle) at-fault crashes,’ and that ‘crashes with speed citations had a 170% greater injury/fatality risk per crash.’”

What that study does not point out is the percentage of truck-involved crashes where the truck was the cause of the crash. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts 2017, the passenger vehicle was coded with the driver-related factor in 89% of fatal crashes involving trucks in which there was a driver-related factor recorded, up from 86% in 2014.

Let’s also not forget a study published by the Ohio DOT in 2017 that revealed that trucks are not to blame in 75% of fatal crashes. Or a 2013 American Trucking Associations study that determines car drivers are at fault in approximately 75% of fatal crashes involving trucks.

The numbers are pretty clear: Truck drivers are not at fault for the majority of truck-involved fatal crashes.

According to the latest truck crash numbers from FMCSA, more than 77% of fatal crashes involving large truck occur when the truck was traveling 65 mph or slower. This means that only 22.6% occurred at speeds that Road Safe America does not want truckers to drive. When you account for the fact that truckers are typically not at fault, what percentage of fatal crashes at speeds greater than 65 mph were the fault of the truck? Likely not enough to justify speed limiters if the logic is to save thousands of lives.

With that said, what would happen if we did put speed limiters on all trucks? According to numerous studies, it will backfire on safety advocates.

Road Safe America states that a “loud minority of the trucking industry has been successful in advancing the erroneous notion that speed limiter requirements will result in increased crashes and traffic jams.” If the “loud minority” is erroneous, then so are dozens of researchers.

For example, this Montana DOT study states that “results showed that longer platoons and greater speed variability contributed to an increased occurrence of high-risk passing events. It follows that roadways with differential speed limits, particularly where high volumes of trucks or other slower moving vehicles are present, would likely experience greater platooning and subsequent high-risk passing attempts, thereby increasing the risk of passing-related crashes.”

That study also concluded “the collective findings support transitioning to a uniform 65 mph speed limit on two-lane rural highways in Montana.”

Or how about this Mountain-Plains Consortium study that states, “Trucks traveling at speeds lower than the rest of the traffic interact with more vehicles, increasing risk. In addition to the car-truck differential, speed limits over 65 mph tend to increase speed differentials between trucks by dividing trucks into company drivers (who tend to have speed limited to lower levels) and owner-operators (who typically can travel at higher speeds).”

Here’s a U.S. Department of Commerce study that finds “the greater the variation in speed of any vehicle from the average speed of all traffic, the greater its chance of being involved in an accident.”

I have more studies, but you get the point.

Even if speed limiters save some lives as a result of less severe impacts, the net number of fatalities will likely increase as a result of speed differentials. It’s literally science.

Road Safe America also claims that truck crashes don’t receive enough attention. It compares them to the attention plane crashes receive.

“This is not to say that we care too much about plane crashes; on the contrary, it reveals just how little we care about truck crashes.”

Logically, this argument is invalid. To start, a single plane crash can kill hundreds of people. When it comes to mainstream media, the higher the death count, the higher up the front page the story goes.

Second, it assumes that truck crashes do not receive a high level attention. Also false. To start, Road Safe America is on his soapbox because of the high-profile nature of the I-70 crash. What about the Walmart truck crash in New Jersey? Or the Humboldt crash? Let’s not forget the hundreds, if not thousands, of attorneys who have billboards plastered all over the National Highway System targeting those involved in crashes specifically with trucks.

Can you think of a land vehicle that gets more attention for crashes than trucks? Maybe subways and trains, but again, higher body count.

Despite the relatively low number of crashes, despite the at-fault percentage and despite all logic, the news cycle disproportionately highlights truck crashes when we compare them to other highway vehicles.

Bottom line: mandatory speed limiters will result in more deaths.

The trucking industry is all about safety. The industry’s resistance to speed limiters has nothing to do with money and everything to do with saving more lives. No one wants to save a few bucks if it comes at the cost of innocent lives. While Road Safe America’s cause is noble and understandable, it’s also misguided and misinformed.

Road Safe America does have a few things correct. It mentions paying drivers decent wages as a way to increase safety. This is something the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has been saying for years and for good reason. Higher pay usually leads to higher quality of applicants.

Standardized training is also something that Road Safe America recommends, another point that OOIDA has been driving home.

Coincidentally, OOIDA Life Member Charles Delp called me while I was writing this story. Delp, who lives in Colorado, specifically wanted to talk about the op-ed being distributed across Colorado publications.

Delp has more than 40 years of driving experience. Knowing the tricks of the trade, Delp said the truck could have been slowed down with a hand valve that can help reduce speed, pull the brakes or cut the ignition and downshift.

Experience and training save lives.

Rogel Lazaro Aguilera-Mederos, the trucker behind the wheel in the Colorado crash, was only 23 years old. He was young, inexperienced and likely had inadequate training. By the way, do we still want drivers under 21 after this?

The company he drove for, Castellano 03 Trucking, was less than perfect. FMCSA documents reveal 35 violations, including a wide variety of infractions. You can check them out here. There are only five drivers.

As you can see, there are multiple factors at play here. To state that speed limiters are the solution is nothing more than an emotional, knee-jerk reaction.

Pilot Flying J
Tyson Fisher

Tyson Fisher joined Land Line Magazine in March 2014. An award-winning journalist and tireless researcher, his news reports, features and blogs bring depth to our editorial content, backed with solid detail. Tyson is a lifelong Kansas Citian.