Time to Speak Up or Face the Possibility of Another National Maximum Speed Limit: NMA E-Newsletter #405

Several members have registered their opposition to a NHTSA proposal to cap the maximum speed of trucks following this NMA email alert on October 1st.  We hope more do the same before the public comment period ends on November 7th to help counteract a growing number of calls for a federal mandate that all vehicles be limited to 65 mph or less.

In a bit of a surprise – until you understand their overall goal – the American Trucking Associations (ATA) voiced opposition to the proposed rule for speed limiters on trucks. Mind you, this is the organization comprised of large-fleet haulers that has aggressively lobbied for limiting truck speeds for years. It worked hand-in-hand with NHTSA on the current proposed rule. The ATA’s rationale? The rule isn’t specific enough in defining the maximum speed for trucks, and doesn’t call for all vehicles on the road to be slowed down accordingly.

The October 1st NMA alert provides a link to the public comment site along with some arguments against imposing speed restrictions. This is old-hat stuff for NMA members who have been fighting for speed limit reform for decades. This is the latest push for a new NMSL and we mustn’t take it lightly.

It is time to get vocal:  Join us in letting NHTSA know that dialing speed limits back to the restrictive and less-safe levels of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s is unacceptable. The following official NMA statement was recently posted on the government site for public comments.

This rulemaking would establish a federally mandated maximum truck speed on the freeways of all states, preempting truck speed limits established by state legislatures and transportation agencies. The National Motorists Association (NMA), a membership organization consisting of several thousand U.S. and Canadian drivers, has severe reservations about artificially limiting truck speeds when it is well established that speed variance among vehicles is a primary factor in crash risk. 
Indeed, this proposed rule is written as if ignoring that trucks share the nation’s roads with 250 million light vehicles. Congestion is frequently caused by trucks overtaking other trucks at very small differences in speed. A uniform speed cap will worsen this effect, especially if it is below the speed that would normally be chosen by a multitude of truck drivers. 
The few truck-involved crashes whose outcomes are worsened by truck speed may be exceeded by the number of new crashes caused by forcing light-vehicle traffic to pass slow-moving trucks through maneuvers – braking, accelerating, lane changing – that increase interactions and potential conflicts between all vehicles.  
The authors of the proposed rule justify ignoring this factor by pointing out that available research cannot predict the number of crashes attributable to this cause. But what shouldn’t be ignored is FMCSA’s own study (Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts 2013, April 2015) which documents that 80 percent of fatal crashes involving large trucks from 2011 to 2013 occurred at speed limits posted no higher than 65 mph. Nearly 60 percent of the crashes were on roads posted at 55 mph or lower. Limiting truck speeds, particularly to 65 mph or less, in the name of safety disregards the facts. 
Furthermore, situations may dictate that truck drivers speed up to avoid collisions or road hazards. Speed limiters can take this critical safety option away from drivers when it is most crucially needed.  
The proposed rule would return to the strategy of the period 1974–1995, when the federal government mandated a national maximum speed limit for all traffic. This was one of the most conspicuous public-policy failures in U.S. history, and was finally repealed by Congress in the chapter of the National Highway System Designation Act of 1995 titled, “Relief from Mandates.” The lesson of the national maximum speed limit was that radical change to one element of the vehicle-highway system produces unintended consequences. The 55-mph speed limit yielded diversion of vehicle-miles from freeways to less-safe roads, delay and time waste, new driver behaviors generating new modes of crash causation, and no discernible impact on traffic safety or fuel use. 
This proposed rulemaking emanates not from a scientific study of crash causation, but from petitions by two trade associations, American Trucking Associations and Road Safe America, representing certain classes of truck operators. While claiming to be motivated by the cause of safety, these associations are in fact trying to deny other truck operators a competitive advantage in travel time and driver/truck productivity. NMA requests that FMCSA and NHTSA explain why these two entities were accorded the remarkable favor of having their commercial proposition translated into a proposed federal regulation. 
NHTSA-2016-0087 and FMCSA-2014-0083 also seek comment on “other technologies limiting speed;” such as GPS receivers combined with digital maps of posted limits, or machine vision that reads roadside signs.  
This approach assigns undeserved meaning to posted limits. Especially when posted by local governments, speed limits are frequently arbitrary, obsolete, of dubious legality, and almost invariably well below normal operating speeds. Many speed limits are set too low intentionally, so as to create revenue-generating speed traps. Speed limiters based on posted limits would apply the force of federal law to every local speed limit, affecting not only trucks but the road users behind each truck. 
The operational and safety impacts of this approach would be incalculably negative, and would extend far beyond truck operators. NMA observes that low truck-speed limits have been proposed by persons seeking to impose low travel speeds on all highway users, using slow-moving trucks to impede traffic generally. 
Because of the unknown impact of speed differential and the potentially severe risk of additional crashes, mandatory limitation of truck speeds should be dropped from consideration.

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