Speed and Safety in Trucking

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety/Highway Loss Data Institute has cited speeding as the factor in more than a quarter of crash deaths since 2008. In response to that trend noted by officers on U.S. and Canadian highways, Operation Safe Driver Week was established in July of 2019. The event was sponsored by The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA), a non-profit association of local, state, provincial, territorial and federal commercial motor vehicle safety officials and industry representatives.

In partnership with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and with support from industry and transportation safety organizations, the effort mandated increased enforcement operations from July 14-20 resulting in 17,000 speeding citations to drivers of cars and trucks traveling on highways in the United States and Canada. While nearly 92% or 16,102 citations were issued to passenger-vehicle drivers, the number of speeding citations issued to commercial motor vehicle drivers totaled 1,454, or about 8% of the total violations.

During Operation Safe Driver Week, it was the intent of law enforcement personnel to focus on driver behavior to reduce the number of crashes involving large trucks, motor coaches and passenger vehicles. While the effort emphasized speed, the officers also pursued drivers exhibiting hazardous driving behaviors. According to the CVSA and Transportation Topics, the top 10 citations were as follows:

  1. Speeding
  2. Failure to wear a seat belt
  3. Failure to obey a traffic control device
  4. Using a handheld phone/texting
  5. Improper lane change
  6. Following too closely
  7. Possession/use/under influence of alcohol and/or drugs
  8. Improper passing
  9. Inattentive, careless and/or reckless driving
  10. Operating a CMV while ill or fatigued

Will legislation Help Prevent Accidents?

While the citation percentage results for truckers were single digits, there is still a huge emphasis on safety and speed in the trucking and transportation industry. Additionally, there remains a misconception that truck drivers are irresponsible with speed limit safety which is why companies are putting into place clear strategies to ensure drivers are complying with safety standards, particularly with speed. A single driver ignoring the laws could jeopardize the reputation of the company they are driving for and threaten the entire industry, not to mention risk the lives of the drivers and passengers among them.

One of the ways that trucking companies are working to ensure safe speeds is speed limit monitors built into their vehicles. While they are not currently required by law, most new trucks include them, and many owners and operators have complied in order to address the speed safety issue.

In the legislative session this last summer, Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and Chris Coons (D-DE) teamed up to introduce a bipartisan bill that would require all new Class 7 and Class 8 trucks to be equipped with speed-limiting devices that must be set to a maximum speed of 65 mph and be used whenever in operation. In addition, the bill would extend the 65-mph maximum speed requirement to existing trucks already fitted with speed limiters.

“The majority of trucks on our roads already have speed-limiting technology built in and set between 62 and 68 mph, so 65 mph will be a reasonable maximum, and the rest of the technologically advanced world has already put them to use to ensure drivers follow safe speeds. This legislation would officially enforce a long-awaited speed limit of 65 mph on large trucks and reduce the number of preventable fatalities on our busy roadways.” — Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-GA)

Although Chris Spear, CEO of the American Trucking Association has criticized the proposal for a lack of specificity and a dearth of research to back it up, the bill has been endorsed by a cross-section of highway-safety advocacy groups, including Road Safe America, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH) Foundation, Parents Against Tired Truckers, the Trucking Alliance, the Truckload Carriers Association, and the Truck Safety Coalition.

If Speed Safety is a Concern, Why are Speed Limits Trending Upward?

Speed limits in the U.S. have fluctuated over the years, but for most states, speeds have been trending upward since 2013.

Research has shown there is no guarantee a speed limit will have any effect on safer driving behaviors. Studies have also shown that most motorists choose a speed in which they feel both comfortable and safe in their vehicle and in traffic. As both vehicles and the traffic patterns have evolved, so too has the speed of drivers as they acclimate to the conditions. The prevailing speed, the speed at which 85% of motorist travel, is actually what influences speed limit adjustments. That is because it tends to be the safest traveling speed based on the majority of the traffic on the roads. This trend makes it clear that safety will be compromised as drivers deviate from the prevailing speed, particularly in the case of drivers at lower speeds. The case has been proven in Minnesota and Maine where speed limits were increasing by 5 mph based on the response of the prevailing speed in their states. What it suggests is that, by increasing speed limits based on the patterns, DOTs are actually making the highways safer.

That might explain why there are so many different speed limits, but it does not prove a consistent conclusion for safety. A new study of speed limit increases in the U.S. from 1993-2017 has estimates that rising speed limits over the past 25 years have cost nearly 37,000 lives.

“The speed at which a motor vehicle is traveling affects both the likelihood of a crash and the severity of the crash. . . increased speed increases the distance to stop or slow the vehicle in an emergency, and increased speed increases the energy of a collision.” Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

The study was based on overall U.S. fatality crash statistics, including both cars and trucks, as recorded in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System. And while it does recognize that safety can be skewed by the prevailing speed on any given roadway, the DOT should carefully consider research and patterns for specific roadways before adjusting or increasing speed limits.

What Does it Mean for Your Company?

Clearly, speed in the trucking industry is a challenging topic and that is probably not going to change. However, safety should always be a priority and that includes safe speeds. While speed limits might vacillate from state to state or year to year, as long as your company is clear and transparent about speed compliances and the consequences of breaking those rules, your drivers will be safe your company will be secure.

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