Group moves to limit speed of new trucks

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 20, 2006 

WASHINGTON—U.S. trucking-industry leaders proposed Friday that all new heavy trucks be equipped with tamperproof controls to prevent them from going faster than 68 mph.

"For the sake of safety, there is a need to slow down all traffic," said Bill Graves, the president and chief executive officer of the American Trucking Associations, based in Alexandria, Va.

The proposal, Graves said, is meant to address the problem of increasing highway-death rates, which after many years of decline have risen modestly since 2000.

Anne McCartt, the vice president for research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in nearby Arlington, Va., lauded the initiative, which the truckers offered as a petition to the Department of Transportation.

"We applaud them," said McCartt, whose group is funded by the insurance industry.

AAA also endorses speed limiters on trucks, said Mantill Williams, the director of public affairs for the drivers' group, although it has endorsed no particular speed limit.

Many truck fleets already use speed governors to improve safety and cut fuel consumption, said Mac McCormick of Bestway Express, a 400-truck operator in Vincennes, Ind., and typically they're set at 68 mph or lower. The current International Brotherhood of Teamsters contract standard is 62 mph or less.

But the speed regulators are easily disabled, according to the trucking group, and they're not as widely used by the tens of thousands of smaller scale owner-operators with whom the big fleets compete.

"If a guy speeds, it's a (competitive) advantage that the general public pays for," said McCormick, the American Trucking Associations' first vice chairman. He said he hoped that requiring the devices on all heavy trucks would "level the playing field."

Todd Spencer, the executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association in Grain Valley, Mo., dismissed the speed-curb proposal as "a pretty cynical PR effort." He said that disparities in speed between cars and trucks would cause more accidents than speed governors prevented.

That possibility has been widely debated, especially in states with dual speed limits for trucks and cars. A Federal Highway Administration analysis in 2004 found "no discernable effect on accident rates" from letting cars go faster than trucks, however.

Graves said tamperproof speed governors wouldn't be hard to design.

The trucking group's measure would apply to trucks that weigh 26,000 pounds or more, which includes most trucks with double rear axles, typically the biggest ones in rental fleets.

In a statement, the Office of the Secretary of Transportation said the proposal would be "thoroughly evaluated."

Graves estimated that it would take at least two years for the proposed regulation to become a federal rule of the road.

Speed controls, which are basically factory-installed microchips, have been widely available since the mid-`90s. Because a commercial vehicle lasts about 10 years, some safety groups, including AAA, want tamperproof chips retrofitted into older trucks. The trucking association's 37,000 members rejected that step at their convention in February.

Generally speaking, truckers are good highway citizens, Department of Transportation figures suggest. While heavy-truck mileage rose 86 percent over the past 20 years, involvement in fatal accidents dropped 51 percent.

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