Promising Outlook for Speed-Limiting Devices on Tractor-Trailers, Heavy Trucks

The prospect of a federal requirement for speed-limiting devices on 18-wheelers and other heavy trucks recently got a big boost when the administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced his support for quick passage of a related rule that has been mired in bureaucracy for nearly two years.

The NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind announced his push for enacting the rule requiring devices that would limit big rigs from traveling no faster than 65 mph in response to The Associated Press’ recent exclusive report detailing the increasing incidents of tire failures caused by big rigs traveling at more than 75 mph, both legally and illegally.

Although many states have speed limits of 75 mph or higher, including 85 mph in some parts of Texas, the report revealed that those higher limits were passed by state legislators without consulting the tire industry. The tires on most of today’s 18-wheelers are built to withstand highway speeds of no more than 75 mph.

The high speeds cause the tire rubber to disintegrate, causing blowouts and other failures. Rosekind told reporters he wants the speed-limiting device rule put in place before someone gets killed as a result of a blowout or other tire problems.

Two years ago, the NHTSA and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) jointly proposed a new rule that would require speed-limiting devices. However, the rule has since been bogged down after taking a year to reach the Department of Transportation, where it has remained with no action since last August.

Some truckers and the trucking industry say they don’t want the 65 mph speed-limiting devices based on a variety of alleged concerns, but the real reason for their opposition can be found in the possibility of longer delivery times for trucking companies and fewer billable roadway miles for truckers. However, many truckers actually want the speed-limiting devices, as evidenced by the president of the Texas Trucking Association recently announcing his group’s support for such devices.

The NHTSA and FMCSA say the speed-limiting devices would significantly decrease the estimated 1,115 fatal large truck crashes that happen in the U.S. every year. Many of the country’s larger trucking companies already have 65 mph speed-limiting devices on their big rigs, but many more, especially the smaller companies that traditionally have spottier safety records, choose to not use them in their trucks.

For all our safety, let’s hope that the Department of Transportation acts quickly to help eliminate this very real danger. NHTSA’s Rosekind framed the issue better than anyone thus far when he told reporters, “You don’t wait for somebody to die when you know there’s a safety problem there.” Truer words have never been spoken.