The Split-Speed Limit Effect: That “Oh Crap” Look on Drivers’ Faces

Written by Gary Biller, NMA President

This post originally appeared in July 2019 as NMA Weekly Newsletter #548.

Split speed limits, where certain commercial vehicles such as large trucks are forced to travel at lower speeds than surrounding traffic, are anathema to truckers and car drivers alike. That is why the NMA and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) have often joined forces to oppose the posting of split speeds and the use of governors on trucks to limit the top speed of travel. This joint national press release from the two organizations a few years ago is an example of our unified position rooted in safety concerns.  

Uniform traffic flow avoids unnecessary vehicle interactions, whereas differential speeds create more braking, accelerating, and lane changing maneuvers. Those actions bring an increased risk of collision. So too does limiting a truck driver’s ability to avoid or prevent an accident by speeding up, as circumstances sometimes dictate.  

And yet, as Arkansas Member and former truck driver Tom Beckett has pointed out, another national movement is afoot to create a national regulation to install speed-limiting devices on large trucks to limit their top speed to 65 mph. Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson and Delaware Senator Christopher Coons introduced Senate Bill 2033 to the U.S. Congress on June 27th to do just that. S2033 currently sits with the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. 

In a note to the NMA, Tom added observations from his experience as a truck driver to support his (and our) opposition to such legislation:

By creating a slower class of vehicles, it is necessary for the faster traffic to constantly make lane changes to pass the slower trucks. I have experience with this from both the trucker and car driver angles. As a truck driver, I constantly had to be aware of other four-wheelers since they often made lane changes that were questionable from a safety standpoint. As a car driver, I found it daunting to have to cross through two lanes of plodding behemoths just to get into a place where I could run a reasonable speed or to get back off of the highway. 

As it is, most of the big fleets govern their truck speed in the high 60s to low 70s. This is fast enough to keep them in, or reasonably close to, the flow of traffic. Some carriers govern their trucks in the mid-60s. On 70 and 75 mph roads where I do most of my driving, that’s slow enough to be a traffic hazard. The safest situation is where most traffic is going at approximately the same speed. It limits the need for lane changes resulting from traffic conflicts. 

It still irks me that my former employer became part of the problem when, in June 1996, they decided to limit their trucks to 59 mph (!!) just as many states were going to 70 mph speed limits. After that, I spent more time looking in my rearview mirror than forward, and I can’t tell you how many times I saw a car coming up behind me at speed, only to see that, “Oh Crap!!” look on the driver’s face when he realized that I was going a lot slower than he was. 

Is this really what we want on a nationwide basis? The forced 55 mph speed limit was an unmitigated failure. A 65 mph restriction on trucks in a 75 mph environment will only cause congestion and waste truckers’ time for no appreciable gain in safety. It may make our roadways less safe. This bill, S2033, needs to be dropped.

We are tracking Senate Bill 2033. It is not yet on the docket of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, but once it is we will notify NMA members so that you can voice your opposition to the bill. The best way to kill it is not to let it get out of committee.

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One Response to “The Split-Speed Limit Effect: That “Oh Crap” Look on Drivers’ Faces”

  1. Greg says:

    The German Autobahn offers an interesting counterpoint to this essay. “unrestricted” portions of the Autobahn still limit trucks to 100kph. Rechts fahren ( keep right except to pass ) makes the incredible speed differentials there safe and workable.