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NTSB says regulators should pursue more flexible truck speed mandate

Technology that responds to varying speed limits should be installed in all trucks, according to safety agency

NTSB wants more technology involved with potential speed limiter regs. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

A plan by federal regulators to set a maximum truck speed falls short because it does not take into account technology that can adjust to different speed limits, according to the nation’s top safety watchdog.

Reacting to the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration’s intent to issue a proposed rule requiring carriers to set electronic engine control units (ECUs) to a specific, yet-to-be-determined speed, the National Transportation Safety Board said it generally supports FMCSA’s proposal.

However, “we view this effort as an interim step toward an eventual requirement that all newly manufactured heavy vehicles be equipped with advanced speed limiting technology, such as variable speed limiters and intelligent speed adaptation (ISA) devices,” NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss told FreightWaves.

Weiss said that although ECU-based speed limiters prevent vehicles from exceeding a set maximum speed, they do not prevent speeding in areas where the speed limit is lower than the predetermined speed, nor do they stop trucks and cars from exceeding the ECU-governed speed when traveling downhill.

“Furthermore, the majority of speeding-related heavy vehicle crashes involve heavy vehicles traveling at unsafe speeds for conditions (for example, speed-restricted areas, traffic-congested areas, poor weather conditions, etc.) rather than crashes involving trucks and buses traveling at high rates of speed above 65 mph,” he said.

Weiss added that NTSB plans to submit comments on the proposal. Comments are due by June 3.

In a report issued in March following the investigation of a January 2020 multivehicle crash on the Pennsylvania Turnpike near Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania, NTSB identified excessive speed by two UPS trucks as a factor in the fatal crash.

As a result, the report restated a previous recommendation that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which sets safety standards for motor vehicles, develop standards for advanced speed-limiting technology (such as variable speed limiters and ISA devices) for trucks, with a second NHTSA recommendation to require that all new trucks be equipped with them.

Commenting on FMCSA’s proposal, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association noted that most crashes involving large trucks occur in areas with speed limits below 55 mph — which would mitigate the effect of a maximum speed mandate, which OOIDA opposes.

“What the motoring public should know is that when they are stuck behind trucks on long stretches of highway, those trucks are often limited to a speed well under the posted speed limit,” said OOIDA President Todd Spencer.

The American Trucking Associations, which first petitioned NHTSA in 2006 to set a 68 mph standard, has altered since then due to a lack of a national maximum speed limit and evolving safety technology that ATA contends helps reduce higher-speed crash risk.

ATA now supports a maximum speed of 70 mph for trucks equipped with automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control, and a maximum of 65 mph for trucks without such technology.

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.

One Comment

  1. Victor Baarn

    Food for thought but for now we need to move on and start with Governed speed regulation . The opinions , Thoughts and whatever more from the Trucking world are irrelevant . The only thing that matters is enhancing safety out there for the public on the American roads . That said the entire sector of trucking in this country needs a TON load Of Federal regulations when it comes to safety and labor/working conditions . Bottom line is that the profession of trucking in this country in Nothing but a Failure . PERIOD .

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John Gallagher

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.