Should the Government Require Semi-Trucks to Use Speed Limiters?

Simple physics suggests that motor vehicle crashes involving huge semi-trucks can cause catastrophic injury and property damage. The sheer size and weight of tractor-trailer trucks and other large vehicles can literally crush passenger vehicles and everything inside them. As a result of the thousands of truck accidents and injuries which occur every year, state and federal governments, along with the trucking industry, seek ways in which to limit these crashes. One solution long considered by regulators is to limit the speed of semi-trucks. However, as we will discuss below, people disagree on the effects of regulating speed. Moreover, if regulation is adopted, there is disagreement as to the speed to which semi-trucks should be limited.

Historical Considerations Among the States

Every state has the power to regulate the speed of vehicles in its jurisdiction. Additionally, smaller government entities within a state, such as towns and cities, may also have certain powers to limit speeds. We all recognize this from driving our cars around Oregon and other states, and encountering different speed limits. As a result of all of these differing jurisdictions, a number of different strategies have been tested around the country. Different states have used different maximum speeds. Maximum speeds have also been varied by considering the condition of roads, the population of the area in which the road is located, and other factors. Moreover, many states created different speed limits for large trucks and cars. 

Federal Considerations

The federal government has also taken an interest in the speed of vehicles in the past. Interestingly, in the 1970s, a time during which the country suffered an energy crisis, the government limited speed both to help save fuel and for safety considerations. Congress even withheld funds from states that did not enforce a 55 mile per hour speed limit. The federal government today takes an active interest in the safety of trucking by issuing numerous federal safety regulations. Federal regulators are now considering implementing regulations which would put devices on big trucks, called speed limiters, which make it impossible for a truck to accelerate beyond a certain speed.

The Current Speed Debate - Pros

Like most hot topics, there is debate about the effects that would be created by speed regulations. The president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has opined that the danger of high-speed truck collisions has greatly increased over time because many state legislatures have increased speed limits. According to research performed by the Institute, speed limit increases between 1993 and 2013 caused an additional 33,000 deaths. The author points out that these additional deaths caused by speed cancel out the gains made by the use of air bags in passenger vehicles.

The Current Speed Debate – Cons

The Executive Director of a nonprofit organization called the National Motorists Association Foundation argues that speed limiters will not increase safety. In fact, he believes that having differential speed limits for trucks and lighter vehicles creates a dangerous situation. As an example, he describes one truck traveling 64 miles per hour being passed by a truck limited to 65 miles per hour. The slow process blocks two lanes for a long period of time, causing congestion and frustrated drivers who start tailgating and making other dangerous maneuvers. He also notes that such a regulation invades the province of State governments, which should be able to take the steps determined best for their particular sets of circumstances.

Final Thoughts

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has considered a variety of speed limits for semi-trucks, including 60, 65, and 68 mph. While there is some merit to all sides of the argument for speed limits, we note that some trucking companies have already adopted similar speed limits and installed limiters on their trucks. Therefore, it appears that these companies believe that limiters increase safety.

Contact Us with Questions

If you have been involved in a collision with a semi-truck, please contact us with any questions. The experienced truck accident lawyers at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield can help you evaluate your rights and determine the appropriate steps to hold the wrongdoers accountable.

Helpful Links:

Chicago Tribune article – “U.S. Wants to Force Lower Highway Speeds on Truck and Bus Drivers” - http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/ct-truck-bus-speed-limit-20160826-story.html

Article on thebalance.com – “Truck Speed Limit Regulations by State” -

https://www.thebalance.com/commercial-vehicle-speed-limits-by-state-1361600


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