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Speed of Delivery: Not Worth the Risk

March 13, 2013
As states increase speed limits, commercial carriers are putting on the brakes.

In Ohio, where IndustryWeek is based, the talk on the roads (via Bluetooth, of course) is of speed limits.

An Ohio Senate committee on March 12 made changes to the state transportation budget that would, if approved, increase the speed limit on freeways outside of urban areas to 70 mph from 65 mph. While motorists with lead feet are likely rejoicing, many of those behind the wheels of 18-wheelers have a slightly different take on the change.

Darrin Roth, director of highway operations for the American Trucking Associations, a Virginia-based trade association that supports a national speed limit of 65 mph for all vehicles, says upping speed limits decreases safety and fuel efficiency.

While traveling at faster rates of speed certainly could provide more efficient delivery times for carriers, Roth says it’s not worth the risk.

“There may be an incremental reduction in delivery times but it’s relatively small. Compared to both the safety risk and the fuel cost, it really doesn’t pay to increase speed,” Roth said.

That’s not only because of the inherent risks associated with higher rates of travel but also of the speed differential between automobiles and large trucks, such as those represented by the association.

In many states, trucks are held to a lower speed limit than the other vehicles on the road. Take Montana, for instance, where laws allow passenger vehicles to travel 75 mph but restrict large trucks to 65 mph speeds on interstates. Because trucks are moving slower, the number of vehicles interacting with the trucks, such as by passing, climbs, increasing the risk of an accident, Roth said.

Even in states like West Virginia, where, for the most part, trucks travel at the same speed (70 mph) as the other vehicles on the freeways, many trucks are still traveling slower than the other cars. That’s because a number of large companies use speed limiters to electronically limit how fast their drivers can go, with most limiting trucks to 65 mph, Roth said.

Imagine the speed differential then on a stretch of toll road in Texas (State Highway 130) where the posted speed limit is 85 mph.

Roth said speed limiters, too, are becoming more prevalent among the major carriers.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase,” he said.

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