NHTSA Considers Rule Requiring Speed Limiters on 18 Wheelers and Large Trucks
U.S Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) have all recognized the risks presented by 18 wheelers and large commercial trucks. However, these vehicles are part of the lifeblood of the nation and commerce would grind to a halt without the dedicated efforts of truck drivers across the nation. As such, these and other government agencies have historically sought to strike a balance between economic efficiency and the safety of all drivers on the nation’s highways and roadways. Until recent years, many safety advocates charged that these agencies had tipped too far to the benefit of economic efficiency resulting in preventable deaths or drivers.
However, since a number of high-profile incidents and defects including the NJ Turnpike accident that severely injured Tracy Morgan and the Takata airbag inflator and GM ignition switch defect, regulators seemed to have realized that their deference has left the door open for abuses.
Proposed Rule Would Require Covered Trucks, Commercial Vehicles To be Equipped with Speed Limiting Devices
A new rulemaking proposal by U.S. DOT, NHTSA, and FMCSA would introduce changes to 49 CFR Part 571 and 49 CFR Part 393. Under the agencies’ proposal, safety standards would be established that requiring all new commercial trucks, buses, and other large vehicles with gross weights over 26,000 pounds to be factory equipped with speed limiting devices. The current proposal has not yet decided on the speed limit for these vehicles, but the agencies are considering setting the maximum speed at 60, 65, and 68 miles per hour. However, the rulemaking proposal does indicate that the agencies will consider other maximum speeds.
Under the proposed rule, trucking companies, bus companies, and other motor carriers engaged in interstate commerce would be required to maintain speed-limiting devices on their vehicles in accord with the speeds set forth in the rule. The government agencies state that reduced speeds of travel for large trucks and buses will not only save lives but also create significant fuel cost savings and reduced emissions.
How Can Reduced Vehicle Speeds Save Lives?
NHTSA administrator Mark Rosekind described the thinking behind the proposal as, “basic physics.” Mr. Rosekind certainly has a point. While the calculations that would go into an accident reconstruction would be significantly more complex, one can easily see the logic behind this proposal through a basic physics equation, F=ma.
F=ma means that the force involved or produced by one vehicle in an accident is a product of the mass of the vehicle multiplied by its acceleration (speed). Consider the weight of a small car at about 1,354 kilograms (3000 pounds). If we assume that the vehicle is traveling at 26.8224 meters/s² (60 miles per hour) the force produced would equal 36,317.53 Newtons of force. By contract, a minimally sized commercial truck at 11793.402 kilograms (26,000 pounds) would produce a force of 15,968,266.31 Newtons – over 400 times the force produced by the passenger car. The force produced by any vehicle only increases as speeds increase. Limiting the speeds of commercial trucks that already produce huge amounts of force can only reduce the likelihood that an accident produces life-altering injuries or fatalities. Furthermore, the greater amount of reaction time afforded by lower speed should generally allow truck drivers additional time to avoid crashes.
However, this rulemaking request is still only a proposal. Interested parties will undoubted comment on this rule. One can almost certainly expect trucking companies and industry lobbying groups to oppose this measure while safety advocates will support it. One can only hope that the provisions set forth in this rulemaking request are studied carefully and objectively before a final rule is issued.
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