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NTSB says regulators should pursue more flexible truck speed mandate

A plan by federal regulators to set a maximum truck speed falls short because it does not take into account technology that can adjust to different speed limits, according to the nation’s top safety watchdog.

Reacting to the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration’s intent to issue a proposed rule requiring carriers to set electronic engine control units (ECUs) to a specific, yet-to-be-determined speed, the National Transportation Safety Board said it generally supports FMCSA’s proposal.

However, “we view this effort as an interim step toward an eventual requirement that all newly manufactured heavy vehicles be equipped with advanced speed limiting technology, such as variable speed limiters and intelligent speed adaptation (ISA) devices,” NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss told FreightWaves.

Weiss said that although ECU-based speed limiters prevent vehicles from exceeding a set maximum speed, they do not prevent speeding in areas where the speed limit is lower than the predetermined speed, nor do they stop trucks and cars from exceeding the ECU-governed speed when traveling downhill.

“Furthermore, the majority of speeding-related heavy vehicle crashes involve heavy vehicles traveling at unsafe speeds for conditions (for example, speed-restricted areas, traffic-congested areas, poor weather conditions, etc.) rather than crashes involving trucks and buses traveling at high rates of speed above 65 mph,” he said.

Weiss added that NTSB plans to submit comments on the proposal. Comments are due by June 3.

In a report issued in March following the investigation of a January 2020 multivehicle crash on the Pennsylvania Turnpike near Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania, NTSB identified excessive speed by two UPS trucks as a factor in the fatal crash.

As a result, the report restated a previous recommendation that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which sets safety standards for motor vehicles, develop standards for advanced speed-limiting technology (such as variable speed limiters and ISA devices) for trucks, with a second NHTSA recommendation to require that all new trucks be equipped with them.

Commenting on FMCSA’s proposal, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association noted that most crashes involving large trucks occur in areas with speed limits below 55 mph — which would mitigate the effect of a maximum speed mandate, which OOIDA opposes.

“What the motoring public should know is that when they are stuck behind trucks on long stretches of highway, those trucks are often limited to a speed well under the posted speed limit,” said OOIDA President Todd Spencer.

The American Trucking Associations, which first petitioned NHTSA in 2006 to set a 68 mph standard, has altered since then due to a lack of a national maximum speed limit and evolving safety technology that ATA contends helps reduce higher-speed crash risk.

ATA now supports a maximum speed of 70 mph for trucks equipped with automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control, and a maximum of 65 mph for trucks without such technology.

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.

The FREIGHTWAVES TOP 500 For-Hire Carriers list includes UPS (No. 2).