Senate Bill Would Cap Truck Speeds

The majority of trucks on U.S. roads already have software to electronically limit their speed built in, but it's not always used.

In this Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016, file photo, truck and automobile traffic mix on Interstate 5, headed north through Fife, Wash., near the Port of Tacoma.
In this Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016, file photo, truck and automobile traffic mix on Interstate 5, headed north through Fife, Wash., near the Port of Tacoma.
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File

Two U.S. senators have introduced a bill that would electronically limit tractor-trailer speeds to 65 miles per hour, a move they say would save lives on the nation's highways.

Sens. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Chris Coons, D-Del., introduced the measure Thursday, saying it would take the place of a proposed Department of Transportation regulation that has "languished in the federal process" for over a decade.

The majority of trucks on U.S. roads already have the speed-limiting software built in, but it's not always used. Most other countries already use it to cap truck speeds, Isakson said in a statement.

The measure also would circumvent the Trump administration's Department of Transportation, which has delayed any action on the proposed rule indefinitely as part of a sweeping retreat from regulations that the president says slow the economy.

The rule, which didn't propose a top speed but said the government had studied 60, 65 and 68 mph, has been stuck since it moved through the public comment stage in November of 2016 toward the end of the Obama administration. The next action on the rule is listed as "undetermined" on a federal website.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, one of the Transportation Department agencies that proposed the regulation, said in a statement Friday that it received many public comments expressing concerns about the analysis supporting it. The agency "will work to ensure that any future decision intended to advance public safety will be grounded in sound analysis," the statement said.

When the regulation was proposed, the DOT wrote that limiting truck speeds to 65 mph would save 63 to 214 lives per year. The bill's sponsors say that there are 1,115 fatal crashes every year involving heavy trucks on roads with speed limits of 55 mph or higher.

If approved, the bill would require all new trucks to have speed limiters activated. It would also be extended to existing trucks that already have the technology installed, but it would not have to be retrofitted on rigs without the technology.

The law also could solve another problem: Most heavy truck tires aren't designed to travel over 75 mph, but some states have 80 mph speed limits. If the trucks exceed the tire speed rating, it can cause blowouts and crashes.

Isakson spokeswoman Marie Gordon said making the legislation bipartisan was a top priority for him "and we'll be working hard to demonstrate that this is a common-sense idea that will protect millions of America's drivers."

While highway safety advocates support the measure, trucking industry groups have opposed it, contending that it would create dangerous speed differentials between trucks and cars that will cause traffic jams and crashes.

"Speed limiting trucks leads to more traffic interactions, which increases the likelihood of crashes," Norita Taylor, spokeswoman for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, said in an email. "Most truck-related crashes occur on roads where the posted speed limit is under the speed in proposed mandates."

The bill carries the name of Cullum Owings of the Atlanta area, who was killed by a speeding tractor-trailer during a trip back to college in Virginia after Thanksgiving in 2002. His father, Steve Owings, co-founded the group Road Safe America and has been working to get a regulation in place. He blames the Transportation Departments in the administrations of George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump for not seeing the rule through.

"We've got an occupant in the Oval Office now who says he's a businessman who believes in common sense," Owings said. "God knows there's not a whole lot the government can do that's more common sense than this."

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