Speed kills. So when speed limits aren’t enough, some in positions of authority think that you have to take it one step further and mechanically force vehicles to obey the speed limit, or at least the limit programmed in the device.
So, the Department of Transportation (DOT) is set to mandate speed limiters on certain trucks that ride our highway system. Also known as Electronic Control Modules (ECM), in the proposal, the devices would limit trucks that weigh over 26,000 pounds traveling roads with speed limit of at least 55 mph.
According to the DOT’s “Report of Significant Rulemaking” from last March, the new rule may be put into action as early as this October. While the actual speed restriction the DOT may have in mind hasn’t been made public yet, previous proposals have suggested 68 mph.
While it may be easy to jump to the conclusion that the trucking industry would oppose such restrictions, many fleets already use electronic speed regulators.
In 2006, two rulemaking petitions were presented by the American Trucking Association (ATA) and the safety advocacy group Road Safe America (RSA). The ATA even requested limiters for all new trucks and the RSA would like to see them retrofitted for all vehicles made since 1990.
According to an online document from the Department of Transportation “This rule would decrease the estimated 1,115 fatal crashes annually involving vehicles with a (gross vehicle weight) of over 11,793 kilograms (26,000 pounds) on roads with posted speed limits of 55 mph or above.” There is also “the ancillary benefit of reduced fuel consumption” and minimal investment on behalf of the trucking companies since many trucks are already equipped with limiters.
Do speed limiters work? If so, how? A speed limiter, sometimes referred to as a governor, has a series of electronic sensors that can calibrate a vehicle’s speed and transmit the information the engine’s computer. If the vehicle gets to a pre-set speed limit, the computer restrict airflow, fuel and sparks that cause combustion in the engine.
Okay, they work, in a literal sense, but do they achieve the goal of improved road safety? The petition asserts that reducing travelling speeds is an important element to reducing truck accident fatalities.
While commercial trucks are involved in fewer traffic accidents than other vehicles, the results are more often fatal when they do happen. And they happen more often on higher speed roads. Authors of the petition cite studies saying 73 percent of traffic fatalities involving large trucks on roads with a speed limit of 55 mph or higher.
While forcibly driving slower should have positive results, there are a significant number of accidents caused by factors unrelated to speed. Additional causes include loss of control due to tire blow outs, engine problems, debris on the highway and driver fatigue, just to name a few.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says the number of fatalities rose by eight percent from 2009 to 2010. Any initiative that can reverse that trend should be welcomed.