Saturday, October 01, 2005

I'm game, are you?

Heavy Duty Trucking:August 2005 Will carriers and owner-operators heed the mandatory speed limiter call?
Jaws were dropping all across the land this past July when the Ontario Trucking Assn. – the largest trucking association in Canada and the third largest in North America – put out a call for mandatory speed-limiting devices on trucks.
Perhaps only slightly more surprising was OTA's call for continent-wide adoption of the policy.
In a statement, OTA indicated that while a North American-wide approach to mandating speed limiters would be optimal, it was prepared to "urge the Ontario government to ensure that at least all the trucks that operate into, out of, and within this province are speed limited."
OTA president David Bradley says this issue has been a topic of discussion around OTA boardroom for some time. It's nothing new, he notes, adding, "In addition to the specific issue of speeding, it is felt that speed is correlated with poor lane discipline, which we are also trying to begin to address."
Several members of the OTA board recently visited a number of European states including the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany and France on a fact-finding mission, concluding that speeding and lane discipline were not big issues over there.
"The use of mandatory speed limiters works. A speeding truck would stick out like a sore thumb in Europe," says Mark Seymour, CEO of Kriska Transportation in Prescott, Ont. "In the several hundred kilometers we drove over there, I never once saw a speeding truck. In my view, poor lane discipline is a by-product of speeding. In Europe, trucks stick to the inside lane for the most part. It was great to see."
Whether or not that policy can, or should, be adopted in North America is another issue. Critics of the OTA plan are quick to point out that trucks spec'd for efficient operation at higher speeds would take quite a hit being forced to operate at reduced speeds. Drivers, predictably, aren't very receptive to the idea, nor are owner-ops. That group is becoming quite vociferous in it's opposition.
..... but just what constitutes speeding? Ontario's major highways have speed limits of 100 km/h (62 mph). Secondary highways are posted at 80 km/h (50 mph). The provinces of Alberta and New Brunswick have posted limits of 110 km/h (66 mph) on main arteries, while Nevada, New Mexico and seven other states have limits of 75 mph. Trying to achieve consensus on this one would be a monumental task, to say the least.
Ontario's solution? Bradley says he is prepared to urge the Ontario government to go it alone.
That, Bradley says, would require speed limiters on all trucks operating in the province, including outside carriers servicing or transiting the province. That would require some verifiable means of establishing that trucks had an active speed limiter, and it was engaged. So, how would Ontario verify the presence of an active speed limiter on a truck?
"Actually, it does not appear to be all that difficult," Bradley asserts. "Handheld PDA's are already being used that can tell you immediately what speed a truck limiter is set at. There may have to be some modification in terms of who has access to which codes to avoid tampering, but this does not seem to be technically insurmountable."
While Bradley wasn't able to go into a lot more detail, one can see roadside inspections in the province including a speed-limiter verification where the enforcement officer would plug a PDA into the reader port to check the codes on the ECM.
"The direction of the board is clear – speeding trucks, and trucks that sit in passing lanes, should no longer be tolerated," says OTA Chairman Scott Smith, CEO of JD Smith & Sons, a Toronto-based local and regional hauler. "We'll talk to carriers, truck drivers, government, police and motorists to answer questions like what speed trucks should be limited to, how to avoid tampering, how to deal with the fact that there are 60 jurisdictions in North America. But we are of the strong view that mandatory speed limitation for trucks is overdue. The technology already exists on current electronic engines. It just needs to be turned on. We've got the ability, why not use it?"

The ideal would be for US to go to a 65 MPH limit and mandatory speed limiters on all late model trucks and all new vehicles. Given the oil supply issues we are facing, asking everyone to hold it to a mile a minute doesn't seem like much to ask. Speeding tickets are a lucrative business for the States and Municipalities, but I think safety would be better served by officers patrolling the highways than by hiding out staring at a radar gun. Speeding is a stupid problem to have when pretty much every engine is computer controlled and can be limited at almost no cost or complexity. I don't see when enforcement has to be complicated, once a phase in period has passed if a truck is going faster than 65 on flat land (or uphill!) it's in violation, the officer just has two tickets to write. Eventually GPS based "smart" limiters that would be able to match your location to the local speed limit will be available and proven but better to go with what we can safely implement today.

Most truckers' issue with the devices is that they are paid by the mile and so they are taking a pay cut by being limited to fewer miles in a day. Of course speeding increases the chances of career ending tickets and, if involved in accident, devastating liabilities. Driver Pay needs to go up, but letting everyone run at 75 is not the answer.


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