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Lawmakers Propose Setting Commercial Truck Speed Limiters at 65 MPH

By: Allan M. Siegel

A bipartisan bill introduced by a Republican and Democratic senator is proposing a major change for the trucking industry: capping the top speed of commercial trucks at 65 MPH.

Here are some details about the bill:

  • The bill – The Cullum Owings Large Truck Safe Operating Speed Act of 2019 (S.2033) was introduced in late June by Senators Johnny Isakson (Georgia) and Chris Coons (Delaware).
  • The reason – The bill is named after Cullum Owings, a young man who was tragically killed by a commercial truck while returning to college after spending the Thanksgiving holiday with his parents. Cullum’s father, Steve Owings, is President and Co-Founder of Road Safe America, a road safety advocacy organization and major backer of the bill.
  • The requirements – Under the bill, speed-limiting devices would be mandatory for commercial trucks weighing 26,001 pounds or more, and must be set at 65 mph at all times. The Department of Transportation would also be required to establish rules for ensuring speed limiters are accurate and that they effectively keep trucks within the accepted speed limit.

Hailed by the Senators as a “lifesaving road safety measure,” the new measure is an attempt to do what lawmakers have previously failed for roughly a decade to achieve: codifying a clear federal law on the maximum speed for large trucks and tractor-trailers. Similar measures have been proposed in Congress, most recently in 2016, but those efforts were shot down under the current administration.

Although many commercial trucks are currently equipped with speed-limiting technology, use of such technology is optional for operators. As Steve Owings noted when commenting on the bill, the loss of his son was a tragedy compounded by knowing his death could have been prevented if all trucks were required to use speed limiting technology.

The time, he and other advocates agree, has long passed for regulators to compel truckers and trucking companies into using critical and widely available safety measures like speed limiters.

Insight Into the Trucking Industry: Profits First, Safety Last

The Owings are unfortunately not the only family to suffer as the result of a commercial truck accident which arguably could and should have been prevented. Over the years, it’s become clear trucking companies and the trucking industry at large place their priorities squarely on their profits, rather than the public or people who share roads with these large and dangerous motor vehicles.

On our blog, we’ve discussed how the trucking industry’s “profits-first” agenda is anything but subtle, particularly in relation to proven safety measures the industry is reluctant to adopt or support for the sole premise that it may cut into their bottom line.

A few examples include:

  • Side-underride guards – Side-underride accidents involve vehicle passing underneath the side of a large truck, and they hundreds of injuries and deaths each year. Though they have been proven to save lives, are mandatory for the rear of trucks, and are required in countries across the world, there’s no mandate in America for trucks to have these safeguards.
  • Sleep apnea regulations – Despite the fact that sleep apnea makes drivers 5x more likely to be involved in serious crashes, regulators publicly stated they won’t pursue specific regulations to directly test and regulate drivers diagnoses with this condition.
  • Increased weight limits – Trucking companies have been boisterous in their efforts to increase the maximum weight of trucks from 80,000 pounds to 91,000 pounds, even though the added weight means longer stopping distances, reduced responsivity, and greater chances for crashes.

In the past few years alone, the trucking industry and many lawmakers (presumably those with favorable relationships with industry lobbyists), have continued to support new measures that sacrifice safety at the expense of money, look to block proposed safety measures, or aim to rollback existing safety-oriented laws altogether. That includes dangerous practices such as:

An industry unbound by clear and reasonable safety regulations, and equipped with tremendous leverage over lawmakers, has had real, disastrous consequences – for victims like Cullum Owings and his family, and for anyone on or near our roadways.

In fact, trucking fatalities have increased in America, and experts like those at NTSB – which included crash-avoidance technology and sleep apnea training in its latest “Most Wanted List” – say the problem is due in large part to an industry that lacks meaningful safety regulations.

Proven Advocacy for Truck Accident Victims

Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C. has covered the trucking industry extensively throughout the years. While there are some safety “victories” here and there, there have been far more regulatory rollbacks and stagnated proposals. It’s a sad story that is unfortunately not new nor exclusive to the trucking industry; it’s something many major industries and corporations have in common. It’s also a sign of the devastating toll that can accompany a zealous, tunnel-vision pursuit of profits.

Even as the trucking industry looks to pad its pocketbooks through regulatory and political interventions, the stories of real people and the efforts of genuine advocates have the power to bring change. Part of that comes with holding truckers and trucking companies accountable for regulatory violations, shortcuts, and negligence in civil personal injury or wrongful death cases. Our team at CSCS helps clients throughout DC, Maryland, and Virginia seek accountability through these means, as well the financial compensation they deserve.

Have a potential truck accident case in the DMV region? Contact us to speak with a lawyer.