Who among us hasn’t been startled by a large truck or bus whose driver appeared inattentive or was driving way too fast on the highway? If you lived to complain about it, consider yourself lucky. For thousands each year, these occurrences have deadly consequences. According to a recent proposal from the U.S. Department of Transportation, speed-limiting technology and new federal safety regulations may be the quickest, most reliable way to slow trucks and buses down across the board, saving lives — and dollars spent on fuel.
If approved, the proposal would see to it that all U.S. trucks and buses weighing more than 26,000 pounds are equipped with a device that would make it impossible for the vehicles to exceed a pre-determined speed. While DOT is considering setting that speed between 60 and 68 mph, the department has asked for your help deciding. The public is encouraged to post suggestions in a comment section, which opened when the proposal was published in September and is set to close November 7, 2016.
DOT certainly should be commended for its endorsement of this life-saving technology. It’s worth pointing out, however, that the idea to mandate the technology’s use in large commercial vehicles is not new. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published a report in 1991 exploring the potential use of speed-limiting devices. But, according to DOT’s proposal, it “concluded that, because of the small target population size as compared to the overall size of the population, there was not sufficient justification to require the application of speed limiting devices at that time.” The American Trucking Association petitioned NHTSA to move forward with a mandate in 2006, according to news reports. As is too often the case, the association’s request “mired in bureaucracy” for years before DOT finally published its latest proposal.
Sadly, we will never know how many lives could have been spared over the years had this mandate been in place. In July, a truck driver pleaded guilty to first-degree vehicular homicide after barreling into cars at 70 mph, tragically killing five nursing students. And reports circulated in 2015 indicated that deadly wrecks involving big rigs were on the rise due to blowouts, some of which may have been caused by excessive speeds above 75 mph that the tires weren’t built to withstand.
Despite the growing death toll, speed-limiting devices aren’t without their critics. Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, an advocacy group for truckers’ interests, has referred to DOT’s proposal as “dangerous for all highway users,” saying it “takes control out of the hands of drivers” who may need to accelerate to avoid danger, and it would cause speed differentials that contribute to crashes and promote road rage.
When you weigh the value of human life, however, there’s no question that the benefit of these devices outweighs the costs a thousand times over. Not only is DOT’s proposal welcomed, it’s long overdue. Hopefully this mandate will be implemented and our roads safer, without delay.