Opinion: Make Mandating Speed Limiters a Top Priority
The fact that speed plays such a prominent role in highway crashes simply makes sense. Faster speeds lengthen stopping distances and limit a driver’s time to react to unforeseen circumstances and take evasive maneuvers to avoid a crash.
When a crash does occur, speed increases the severity of the event dramatically. For instance, a 30% increase in speed results in a 69% increase in the kinetic energy of the vehicle. That’s because kinetic energy is determined by the square of the vehicle’s speed, rather than by speed alone. In other words, as speed increases, energy increases at a much faster rate. For these reasons, new research on speed limiters recently released by FMCSA found that, “Multiple analyses indicated a profound safety benefit for trucks equipped with an active speed limiter.”
Lower speeds make economic and environmental sense as well. Fleets that voluntarily limit their speeds have seen cost savings not only from crash reductions, but from reduced vehicle maintenance, fuel use and other operating costs. If all fleets were to limit their speed, society would realize these benefits as well as reduced emissions and other positive environmental effects.
For these reasons, both American Trucking Associations and Roadsafe America petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and FMCSA in 2006 to require that speed limiters be set on all commercial motor vehicles weighing more than 26,000 pounds. Fortunately, NHTSA granted the petitions in late 2010 and agreed to conduct a rulemaking, which is due to begin later this year.
The costs to impose such a mandate would be small. All heavy trucks manufactured since 1992 have speed limiter capabilities within their electronic control modules (ECM). A mandate would require simply that the devices be set — and new ones made tamper-resistant.
Those opposed to mandated speed limiters struggle to argue with the certain benefits they provide. For instance, opponents claim a mandate is inappropriate because there is no guarantee that drivers and motor carriers will not tamper with or otherwise disable them. But this argument follows the “let perfect be the enemy of good” approach. Had DOT used that logic in the past, we would not have benefited from the many safety systems in place today (e.g., seat belts) that have saved hundreds of thousands of lives.
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