Can the government force truck drivers to go slower?

In 2002, 22-year-old college senior Cullum Owings was killed by a speeding truck in Virginia on his way to spend Thanksgiving with his family. He was pinned inside his car and died before rescuers could respond to the scene. The truck driver who slammed into his car spent only one month in jail after being charged with reckless driving, according to the NY Times.

Cullum’s parents formed the nonprofit organization Road Safe America and in 2006 petitioned for safe truck speed limits. Although they had the support of the American Trucking Association, the country’s largest such group, the speed limit proposal has been bogged down in governmental bureaucracy for a decade.

However, a new proposal recently emerged that would forcibly limit the top-end speed of trucks, large vehicles and busses on the nation’s highways. The move has been met with some resistance by the trucking industry.

How The Speed Limit Would Be Enforced

The government is considering the use of speed-limit-technology that caps a vehicle’s ability to exceed a programmed number. The proposal targets vehicles that are heavier than 26,000 pounds and regulators are bandying about 60, 65 and 68 mph as a cap, but that remains open to discussion.

Bolstering the government’s position, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration say that reducing allowable large vehicle speeds would cut the 1,115 fatal accidents that occur annually and reduce fuel consumption to the tune of $1 billion.

Regulators also point out that the cost of implementation would be minimal because many of the speed-inhibitors are already installed in big rigs, but are not yet programmed.

But Would It Actually Lead To More Crashes?

According to CBS Boston, the 157,000-member Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association has voiced opposition. The association’s spokeswoman, Norita Taylor, claims that speed differentials between trucks and faster moving vehicles could lead to increased crashes.

Rebutting Taylor’s position are the facts that 14 states equal or exceed the safe speed designs of most truck tires. The majority of truck tires are not created to go faster than 75 mph and manufacturers agree that tire failure and blowouts could result at these high rates of travel.

Where This Leaves Us

As agencies field public input over the next two months, a final determination about maximum truck speeds may not rest in the government’s ability or willingness to utilize existing technology. It may come down to a agreeing to a national, unified standard for trucks and large vehicles and the best interest of public safety.

The tragic events that needlessly struck down the bright future of Cullum Owings and devastated his family may be a beacon to guide the regulatory process.

If you have also lost a loved one or been injured in a trucking accident, consider talking with a personal injury lawyer who can clearly explain your rights and help you pursue compensation.