WASHINGTON - Federal regulators are considering a proposal to cap the speed of trucks, buses and other large vehicles, a move that could significantly affect South Dakota and other western states where tourism and the trucking industry depend on the nation’s highways.
The Transportation Department proposal would require speed-limiting devices on new heavy-duty vehicles weighing more than 26,000 pounds. Regulators haven’t established a nationwide speed limit but are considering 60, 65 or 68 miles per hour.
“There are significant safety benefits to this proposed rule-making,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said. “In addition to saving lives, the projected fuel and emissions savings make this proposal a win for safety, energy conservation, and our environment.”
The measure has drawn mixed reviews from trucking and consumer-advocacy groups in South Dakota, where the maximum speed limit on the interstate is 80 mph.
South Dakota has more than 80,000 miles of highways, roads and streets. The highway system is vital in areas where cities and towns are far apart, and where local economies depend on tourism and exporting goods and services outside the state. Farmers also depend on the roads to ship surplus corn, ethanol and soybeans.
Myron Rau, president of the South Dakota Trucking Association in Sioux Falls, warned that capping speeds for trucks could actually make the roads less safe. For example, trucks in a hilly area that are forced to limit their speed going down a hill could struggle to make it up the other side. If a fast-moving car travelling at 80 miles per hour approaches the truck from behind, there could be serious risk for both vehicles.
“We’re on record as hating this,” Rau said. “When you look at the big picture and you look all those other things that are going to result from this, I think it’s going to be a losing proposition not a gaining proposition as far as highway safety goes.”
He said the “one-size-fits-all” proposal was written by Washington regulators used to traffic congestion and slower speeds on the East Coast without considering the geography of areas in the western United States. An estimated 95 percent of products in South Dakota come by truck, Rau estimated.
“We’ve really got concerns,” he said.
Marilyn Buskohl, a spokeswoman with AAA South Dakota, disagreed, saying research shows that the risk of a crash -- and the severity of a possible collision -- increases as speed climbs. She noted that it takes much longer for a semi-truck to stop than a car.
“I would be in favor of (this proposal) because of the road safety aspect of it,” she said. “Vehicle speed is a very important factor in road safety.”
Sen. John Thune, chairman of the powerful Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee that oversees the nation’s highways, declined to say whether he would support the DOT’s plan.
“Safety must be a priority for everyone on the road, which is why the DOT must take rural-state variables into consideration, like the danger of passing slower trucks that operate on high-speed rural roads,” he said. “Many commercial vehicles are already operating with this technology, so it’s a matter of evaluating the impact in states like South Dakota and preventing any unintended consequences.”