It was a century ago that the first government entity proposed the use of speed limiters (called speed governors at the time). The Cincinnati city council proposed a limiter for all vehicles that would keep speeds in the city below 25 mph. That step started a 100-year-old debate that is now heating up again.
Resistance to Speed Limiters
The young automobile industry reacted in horror to the concept of “governors,” and the rapidly growing trucking industry joined in the battle. That early effort was defeated, and many feel it was the impetus for a new approach to the concept of vehicular safety.
The primary argument used to defeat those early efforts at mandating speed limiters was that speed was only a secondary factor in auto and trucking safety. Since those early days, an entire industry has been developed that focuses on safety and collision avoidance.
Today, however, the federal government is again focusing on speed limiters as a part of its highway safety initiatives. The first round in the most recent battle was started with a proposal by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in late 2016. That step spurred an ongoing number of new studies and intense lobbying on both sides.
One of the most active opponents of speed limiters and any new legislation is the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. This is the primary representative of small-business truckers and independent professional drivers. OOIDA has alerted its membership and helped generate tens of thousands of responses to the proposed regulations.
The debate has a new element today as technology and highly automated automobiles and trucks present new options for the types of possible limiters. European nations actively seek to implement “intelligent speed assistance” in all new vehicles.
Two Sides of the Story
Everyone involved is fully supportive of safer roadways and highways. In fact, some of the larger trucking firms have come out in favor of speed limiters. Additionally, the first thought is that slower speeds mean fewer accidents. However, some of the most effective arguments against limiters are focused on how they will increase highway dangers rather than mitigating them.
The standard arguments for speed limiter legislation include the following:
- Commercial trucks are reported to be involved in more than 18 percent of crashes that involve fatalities. Speed is claimed to be a primary factor in most of these crashes. Proponents quote studies that show trucks equipped with speed limiters are involved in 50 percent fewer accidents.
- The fuel efficiencies gained by the use of speed limiters can be substantial. Moreover, this is more than theoretical savings as many trucking firms have used limiters in some form in parts of their fleets and reported lower fuel costs.
- A direct benefit of lower fuel consumption is lower vehicle emissions. The reduction in carbon monoxide emissions is a major factor for some proponents.
Opponents of the mandating of speed limiters argue that:
- There are two parts to the argument when it comes to limiting speeds for commercial vehicles. The first is that the driver loses the ability to react to differing road conditions and traffic situations. The other side of this concern is that if there are limiters, they must be for all vehicles. The claim is that a differential in speeds between autos and trucks creates unsafe passing conditions, especially on two-lane roads.
- The unintended consequences of mandating limiters would include increased congestion and unsafe driving conditions. This is again based on the challenges created by a differential in speeds and autos without limiters seeking to overcome slower truck traffic.
- Because of increased congestion, unsafe conditions, and increased time on the road, opponents contend that speed limiters will increase, rather than decrease, harmful emissions.
The next year will see an intense battle over the speed limiter question. New technologies and concepts will provide a new context for this issue that has now been at the forefront of traffic safety for an entire century.