Trucking Along: A Future for Speed-Limiting Devices?


Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has recently pushed for the Department of Transportation (DOT) to finalize a rule that would require electronic speed-limiting devices for large trucks and buses.  As DOT and other agencies prep for the incoming Administration and industry groups battle over the effectiveness of such a rule, it’s unlikely for the rule to be finalized in the waning days of the current Administration.  Under the next President and Transportation Secretary, could there be a final rule on this technology?   

Background on Speed-Restricting Technology

In August, DOT initially proposed a rule to implement technology within trucks and buses to limit their speeds at either 60, 65, or 68 mph.  The proposal would require all trucks weighing more than 26,000 pounds to be equipped with a speed-limiting device that would prevent excessive speed.  The rhetoric behind this device suggests limiting the speed of larger vehicles on the road can help prevent further accidents and even save lives.  When the rule was first announced, DOT Secretary Foxx said that the benefits to speed limiting devices also included a potential $1.1 billion in saved fuel costs and millions of gallons of gas saved annually, as slower speeds reduced fuel dependency.

The original proposal was developed by both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) within DOT.  After reviewing industry and consumer comments and once a final rule is set, the NHTSA would be responsible for establishing a new Federal motor vehicle safety standard to require the use of the device.  The standard would also need to record the settings of the device (dates and times of maintenance and when the device was installed), which would also need to comply with the diagnostic system of the vehicles.  The FMCSA would then be responsible for enforcing the standard.

The Benefits and Problems with Speed-Limiting Devices

The American Trucking Association (ATA), one of the trade groups that represent the trucking industry, has supported the proposed rule and noted that about 70 percent of trucking companies already use electronic limiters.  ATA also noted that speed is a contributing factor to nearly 29 percent of all fatal crashes.  Senator Schumer has been a proponent of the DOT proposal, highlighting during a press conference that in 2014 of the 10,742 police-reported large truck crashes in New York, 990 were related to unsafe speed.  Implementing this rule, Schumer said, would save nearly 1,000 lives each year.  

According to the cost-benefit analysis that accompanied the proposed rule, the reduced speed would cost industry per annum approximately $1.5 billion for those limited at 60 mph, $514 million at 65 mph, and $206 million for those at 68 mph.  However, these costs would easily be offset by the fuel savings benefits that would accompany lower speeds.  By also using the value of a statistical life to determine the costs associated with fatalities on the road, as well as costs associated with injuries, damage, and insurance that accompany traffic collisions, the proposal makes clear that the rule will be beneficial if implemented.

While the ATA already noted that many trucks and buses already have the speed-limiting devices in place, other industry groups are not in support of the proposed measure.  The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers’ Association (OOIDA), a group of independent truckers and smaller owners, believes the rule takes control out of the hands of drivers and actually puts them at risk on the road.  The trade association notes that “there is no clear evidence that the use of speed limiters will improve safety,” and notes that the rule would cause a variance of speed on the highway which studies have shown to increase the risk of an accident.

The OOIDA highlights profit as an additional concern.  As the trade association representing independent and small business owners, the cost burden of compliance with equipping vehicles and delivery delays are serious issues.  The association asserts that driving below a 70 mph speed limit could cost drivers 50-55 miles per day, which equals $85.25 per day or $22,165 per year.  Instead of speed-limiting technology, small business owners and OOIDA support mandatory entry-level driver training programs to improve the quality of the drivers in large trucks.

Next Steps

This DOT proposed rule is merely one of dozens that remains on the chopping block for agencies as they enter the final weeks of the Obama Administration.  With new Cabinet-level and sub-cabinet leadership replaced in January, it is highly unlikely for DOT to put forth a final rule within the last weeks of the Obama Administration, despite the best efforts of the soon-to-be Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer.

President-elect Trump has tapped former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao to serve as the new Transportation Secretary under his Administration.  Chao, the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, still needs Senate confirmation before she can begin managing the Department.  As Labor Secretary under President Bush, Chao received some criticism for her management of the Labor Department when she was questioned by the Government Accountability Office for not pursuing labor violations.  Additionally, the mine disasters at Sago Mine and Crandall Canyon had highlighted lax enforcement of standards by the Mine Safety and Health Administration, especially since Chao had cut mine safety inspections prior to the disasters.

Despite her critics, Trump’s selection has been seen by many to reflect his seriousness in enacting one of his core campaign pledges for infrastructure development within his first 100 days.  As the longest-serving Secretary of Labor since Frances Perkins (1933 – 1945), Chao served the duration of the Bush administration and has served in many federal agencies prior to her service.  She would also be the first Asian-American to head the department and the first with this background appointed by the Trump administration.

The incoming Administration has said it would issue a temporary moratorium on new agency regulations that are not compelled by Congress or by public safety to eliminate “intrusive regulations.”  Under this regulatory environment, it seems a final rule on speed-limiting technology will not be a DOT priority with a Trump Administration.  Yet, with Chao’s prior bureaucratic experience and a campaign pledge for infrastructure reform, there may be a future for speed-restricting devices under Secretary Chao and President Trump.

Image source: Associated Press