FMCSA first proposed a speed limiter mandate in 2016. Seven years and six FMCSA administrators later, there’s been no resolution. What’s happened since 2016, and what direction do we think FMCSA will take? The short answer to the first part of the question is simple:  politics. Just months after the original notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) was published in 2016, President Trump came into office with a regulatory-rollback agenda. This effectively put the Speed Limiter proposal on the shelf. Fast forward to April 2022, when the Biden administration published a Notice of Intent to begin (or restart) work on a speed limiter rulemaking.

FMCSA (along with NHTSA) didn’t have a fully baked plan from the outset. The original NPRM did not specify a speed at which CMVs should be limited but offered up a range of suggestions. Effectively, the agencies asked the public what it thought the limit should be. The American Trucking Associations opposed the proposal, citing advocacy for a nationwide speed limit for all vehicles, and have since adopted a policy supporting a maximum speed of 70 mph in trucks equipped with automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control and a 65 mph maximum for trucks without those safety features. The Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association also opposed the proposal saying, among other things, that “most crashes involving CMVs occur in areas with speed limits below 55 mph, mitigating the effect of a potential mandate.”

So, where do we go from here? For one, highway safety has simply not improved since 2010. According to DOT’s February 2023 Progress Report on the National Roadway Safety Strategy, almost 43,000 people were killed in highway crashes in 2021, a 10.5% increase compared to 2020. With respect to large truck-related crashes, fatalities in crashes involving at least one truck increased 13% year-over-year. Indeed, over 40% of fatal crashes involving large trucks between 2018 and 2020 occurred on roadways on which speed limiters could be effective, according to FMCSA Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts.

Despite these clear facts, we can’t take the politics out of the equation. This month, a handful of members in Congress are seeking to shut down the effort by introducing a bill to prohibit FMCSA from mandating speed limiters. While STC does not believe this bill will pass, it nonetheless is a marker that the various factions are gearing up for a fight.

STC’s prediction is we will see a rule proposed which includes a maximum speed setting later this summer. What the maximum speed(s?) is anyone’s guess, but the pressure to move the needle on safety is too great for DOT to shy away from the pending battle.

Our greater concern is that this rulemaking petitioned for 16 years ago and first acted on seven years ago, is focused on analog technology as the rest of the world races towards more advanced digital solutions. If we’re serious about reducing speed-related crashes, more consideration should be given to moving towards Intelligent Speed Assist (ISA) technology on all vehicles, and not just require speed limiting devices on large trucks. In this way, data from highway signs, known speed limits that are set by the States, vehicle position and more would help all drivers maintain a safe speed regardless of what roads they operate on, and it would help to keep traffic flow consistent. This technology is becoming increasingly widespread in other countries and warrants serious consideration in the U.S. We know speed kills, and people are unfortunately doing more of it. However, we must do our best to offer solutions to treat the symptoms that are creating the problem.