Truckers Seek to Slow Big-Rigs

October 19, 2006

A lobbying group for the largest U.S. trucking companies is seeking a 68-mile-per-hour speed limit for newly manufactured big-rigs to reduce crashes and save lives.

The goal is to cut “the number and severity of speed-related crashes,” the American Trucking Associations said in a press release, but some critics see a veiled effort to gain a competitive edge over independent drivers.

The lobbying association said that it plans to formally petition federal safety regulators later this week. The Alexandria, Va.-based trucking group will ask the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration “to limit the maximum speed of large trucks at the time of manufacture.” It seeks further enforcement from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which it will ask to “prohibit the tampering or adjustment of speed limiting devices to greater than 68 miles per hour.”

There are 24 states where the speed limit for trucks on interstate highways is 70 miles per hour and higher.

Joan Claybrook, the president of Public Citizen, said the trucking association’s proposal might help improve truck driver safety, though there are other ways to go about it.

Because most drivers are paid by the mile and are only allowed to drive a limited number of hours each day, “they often are tempted to speed,” Claybrook said. “The real issue is they should just pay drivers by the hour, then they wouldn’t encourage them to speed.”

Federal statistics released in August showed the number of fatalities from truck-involved crashes declined to 5,212 in 2005, down from 5,235 in 2004. The number of people injured in large truck crashes fell to 114,000, a decrease of 2,000 from the year before.

One industry official that is not affiliated with the American Trucking Associations said the group’s proposal does not appear to be solely motivated by safety.

Because many of the country’s largest trucking companies already have devices installed in their vehicles to limit drivers’ speeds, they may be trying to gain an advantage over rivals who do not.

“Certain trucking companies would like to limit the productivity of their competitors,” said Todd Spencer, executive vice president for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

Spencer said leveling the playing field on truck speeds may also be an issue in an industry that “doesn’t pay very well” and is facing a driver shortage. “Many drivers will leave a company that has speed-reduced trucks for a company without them,” he said.

Some analysts said trucking companies might also be trying to improve the fuel efficiency of their fleets.

Tiffany Wlazlowski, a spokesman for the American Trucking Association, said the group would have no further comment on the issue before a news conference scheduled for Friday.

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