Safety is the greatest priority in trucking.
Our companies and drivers make a living traveling the same roads that our loved ones share. I cannot think of a better reason to do more to reduce speed on our highways.
The trucking industry, led by our national affiliate, the American Trucking Associations (ATA), has been pursuing federal requirements for all trucks to be electronically speed limited.
New trucks have this capability, and nearly 70 percent of trucks on the road already have limits set well below 70 mph. In order to further improve highway safety for all of us, it is time for the U.S. Department of Transportation to act.
In 2006, ATA petitioned USDOT to mandate speed governors for large trucks. Even though federal officials agreed to issue a regulation, nearly a decade later there still has been no action.
Meanwhile, states across the country continue raising their speed limits to arguably dangerous levels. Already, 16 states, including ours, allow traffic to move at 75 mph or faster.
It is time to ask: How fast is too fast?
We know speed is already a leading factor in fatal crashes on Texas highways, causing 26,691 accidents resulting in 785 fatalities in 2013 alone — contributing to more than 23 percent of Texas fatalities and nearly 30 percent of the nation’s total.
Going faster increases braking distance and decreases reaction time. In cases where a collision is unavoidable, higher speeds make crashes more severe.
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, driving too fast for conditions or faster than the posted speed limit was the primary reason for 18 percent of all fatal crashes in which a large truck was deemed at fault.
And of all the fatalities in Texas during the past five years, trucks were involved in about 14 percent and found at fault less than 4 percent of the time.
That’s approximately 135 fatalities out of 3,377 Texas fatalities in 2013.
While the professional driver is not the problem, we as an industry work daily to decrease that number. Slowing drivers down wouldn’t prevent all those crashes, but it could surely prevent some and mitigate others.
As a bonus, we know slower speeds save fuel.
Even as prices at the pump drop, we are all conscious of how much fuel we burn. A truck traveling at 65 mph burns 27 percent less fuel than one going 70 mph.
According to one study, a truck’s fuel economy increases by more than a mile per gallon if its speed is cut by 10 mph. Trucks today, while burning much cleaner than the past, still only realize 5-7 miles per gallon.
As a safety-first organization, we think it’s time for USDOT to act on speed limiters.
We also believe all states should thoughtfully consider speed differentials when setting their maximum speeds for all vehicles.
Studies show that the greater the difference in speed between vehicles, the more dangerous their encounters on the highway can be.
This is one of the reasons law enforcement officers will stop a vehicle for going too slow on the interstate. When the speeds in which vehicles overtake each other are too far apart, the outcome can be very undesirable.
Therefore it is also dangerous when states set the speed limits too high on any stretch of highway. In effect, they are setting the bar higher for everyone if there is to be a safe flow of traffic.
Slowing down traffic simply saves lives. It saves fuel. It saves money in the form of reduced congestion, reduced accidents and insurance costs.
It just makes sense.
John D. Esparza is president of the Texas Trucking Association.