In late October, the American Trucking Assns. petitioned the Dept. of Transportation to require the installation and “tamper-proof” oversight of speed governors on all new commercial vehicles with GVWRs of more than 26,000 lb. The ATA petition, which follows a similar request by nine large truckload carriers, also proposes that the mandatory speed governors put a 68-mph limit on truck speed.

These requests represent a bold leadership move by the trucking industry. Now it's up to the agencies involved to vet the proposals expeditiously through a formal rulemaking process.

A 68-mph limit on speed governors could reduce both the number and severity of crashes involving large trucks, since the relationship between speed and crash involvement has been well established.

  • Large Truck Crash Causation Study (2006): “Traveling to fast for conditions” was found to be the critical pre-crash event in 18% of all crashes where trucks were deemed the critical reason for the crash.

  • ATRI High Risk Driver Study (2005) revealed that drivers convicted of 15-mph-over speeding offenses were 56% more likely to be involved in a crash in the year following the conviction than those individuals without that offense on their records.

  • Large Truck Crash Facts (2004) cites “driving too fast for conditions” or “speed in excess of the posted limits” by the truck driver as the attributing factor in 14% of all single vehicle and 7% of all multiple vehicle fatal accidents involving a commercial vehicle.

Speed related crashes come at a high cost. First and foremost is the loss of life. If fatalities are reduced by only 10%, this proposal could save about 400 lives a year. Second is the economic impact of a truck crash, which ATA estimates as $72,459 each, based on a 2000 study — or $80,000 in today's dollars.

Limiting truck speed to 68 mph would provide additional economic benefits, including improved fuel economy, reduced tire wear and decreased engine emissions. For example, in a 1996 study, The Maintenance Council estimated that fleets could save 1 mpg in fuel for every 0.1 mile reduction in truck speed.

In spite of these facts, not everyone is in favor of the proposal, including the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Assn. (OOIDA), which says that crashes caused by cars traveling faster than trucks would outweigh any benefits of speed governors. OOIDA cites a study from Washington State that demonstrates that drivers of passenger cars are cited for speeding violations more frequently than truck drivers.

Small carriers are against the proposal because it would eliminate what they consider to be their recruitment advantage over large carriers, i.e., that some drivers prefer to work for companies with big, shiny fast trucks.

Given this political landscape, what are the next steps? First, NHTSA and FMCSA must open the dialogue through a formal rulemaking process. Second, the dialogue must include a review of all of the research related to the costs and benefits of such a proposal, including information from countries that already have such speed governor requirements, including the United Kingdom and other EU countries, as well as Australia.

I urge you to support ATA in this effort. The proposal has substance beyond feel-good phrases like “reducing the number and severity of truck crashes.” If enacted, this proposal would require real management and driver controls that could lead to results — results that will make our highways safe for everyone.

Jim York is the manager of Zurich Service Corp.'s Risk Engineering Transportation Team, based in Schaumburg, IL.