How Truck Speed Limiters Impact Our Highways

May 11, 2023
speed limit sign against a blue sky, speed limit is 70

The trucking industry plays a crucial role in the American economy, with over 3.5 million truck drivers transporting goods across the country. However, with this immense responsibility comes a need for regulations to ensure the safety of drivers and other road users.

One such regulation that has been a topic of debate is the speed limiter. In this episode of Driven Too Far, host Andrew Winkler speaks with Kent Grisham, President of the Nebraska Trucking Association, about the impact of speed limiters on the trucking industry and the latest developments in regulations. While the use of speed limiters has been on and off the table for years, recent changes in government have brought the topic back into the discussion.

However, there are still many questions surrounding the implementation of speed limiters, such as the appropriate speed limits and driver overrides.

Join us as we explore how speed limiters impact our highways and the future of this regulation.

How Truck Speed Limiters Impact Our Highways

Here are the transcripts from our latest episode of the Driven Too Far Podcast.

Andrew Winkler: On this episode of Driven Too Far, We’re talking about speed limiters and a few other regulations with Kent Grisham of the Nebraska Trucking Association. Hello, I’m Andrew Winkler and this is Driven Too Far The Truth About Trucking, a podcast that helps over-the-road truck drivers balance career and family. On this episode of Driven Too Far, we’re talking about regulations. And today we’re joined by Nebraska Trucking Association President Kent Grisham. Welcome to the show, Kent. Thank you.

Kent Grisham: I’m excited. This is it’s exciting to see this kind of effort going into communicating with drivers and your employees, plus reaching out farther than that. So this is great.

Andrew Winkler: It’s been kind of a crazy ride. We started this back in November and had no idea where this thing was going to take us. And I thought to myself, who’s going to listen? But by gosh, we got several thousand listeners every episode. So it’s really taken off for us. That’s fantastic. Hey, I want to talk about regulations a little bit today and let’s just dive right in because I want to know what’s going on with speed limiters. What are you hearing from Washington and what’s going on? You know.

Kent Grisham: Speed limiters are an on again, off again issue. And there’s that adage that elections matter and speed limiters are something that we can look at and say that elections matter because they were a kind of a hot topic under the Obama administration. The Trump administration completely threw them. I don’t even think they tried to aim for the back burner. They just threw them right off the stove. The Biden administration comes in, brings that heavier regulation, bigger government kind of approach to things, and suddenly speed limiters are back on the discussion table. Where they are today is a good question. There are rulemakings out there that are not yet published that are not yet ready for the public comment. The industry as a whole has spoken out through different associations, some of which you belong to at chief carriers. There’s there’s a little bit of a lack of consensus, I think, in the industry itself, like where do you set them at? What kind of overrides are available to the drivers? How many times can a driver override? I know that there are some folks who would like to see new studies because, again, the last time we talked about this was ten, 12 years ago when it first came up, maybe even before that. And technology has changed just in that window of time. I think they raise a valid point that with what the technology looks like inside the truck now for adaptive cruise control and the ability of between the device and the adaptive cruise control, there are ways of limiting that truck speed more based on what’s happening within the Geofenced area, all of those kinds of things. We’re not really a part of the original discussion, and they probably should be.

Andrew Winkler: Yeah, I kind of wondered that myself. It’s, you know, with today’s technology, why is it that we can’t just can there be a variable speed on the truck where it gets turned up and down based on the posted speed limit of wherever that truck’s traveling?

Kent Grisham: Well, I think to be clear. Good safety minded fleets like chief carriers and many others that I have as members of the Nebraska Trucking Association, they all have the ability to put speed limiters on their trucks today. They can program that truck from afar, that it will only do this and it will only do that. And that’s when I say, isn’t that kind of approach in the market place better than a government regulation that cannot account for all the variables that a trucking operation would? Unfortunately, though, you run into the situation with the smaller fleets and the owner operators and the truly independent owner operators who don’t care to have those kinds of technologies deployed in their truck or choose to just not use them. And I think that’s where we have that gap that causes politicians to say, we better have a law, we better have a rule that says this is what it’s going to be. So I do think, though, that we have to not there’s a way to go into what is safest and what is best and still allow for some driver autonomy because they’re the people that are they’re in control. They’re in the cabs, they’re in control. They see what’s happening. That software may not interpret correctly and certainly observations by way of camera for somebody a thousand miles away can’t interpret correctly. Right.

Andrew Winkler: So what’s your gut tell you? Where’s this thing going? What do you think? Is are they going to string it out till Biden’s out of office? Well, that’s if Biden’s out of office, right?

Kent Grisham: First thing. Yeah. That is certainly, I think, a possibility that it will work in many ways the way it worked under the Obama. Illustration. We’ll talk about it, talk about it, talk about it, band around a bunch of different ideas. Come up with one that we think everybody is prepared to move forward to. But the administration just runs out of time and then the next administration doesn’t take it up, has no interest in those kinds of regulations, in fact, wants to cut regulations. I think there is the possibility that something like that will happen with the current administration. All of the regulations, the Biden administration is a very heavy control, big federal government, lots of regulations, kind of more government. And, you know, whatever the audience reaction to that may be, some may say, yeah, some may say hate. It will speed limiters, make it to the actual public comment and implementation phase before Biden runs out of time. In this first term. That seems like it’s going to be a tough one to get done. Will he get a second term? Will it continue through then? I think that’s a better question.

Andrew Winkler: Yeah, we’ll see there. I’m curious about the MTA. Do you represent or do you have a lot of members that are smaller fleets and have they been vocal about it?

Kent Grisham: Oh, sure. The majority of our fleets are in that 50 truck or less. In fact, probably our largest group is the 21 truck and less company. They make up the lion’s share of our membership rosters. We do have even the one truck owner operators who are members because they want their voice to be heard. They want to make sure that they’re in the mix of information gathering and information sharing with the large fleets, be they a fleet your size or even the bigger ones that we have as members. And they come and they’re involved and they’re engaged and it’s and it’s great to hear their voices. Do I hear from them on this, Yes.

Andrew Winkler: Do. Yeah. Pretty hot one I think.

Kent Grisham: And it and it causes us and it’s why the MTA in this particular issue has taken a fairly neutral stand on what the right formula for a speed limit or rule is going to be because we have this diversity of our membership and everybody has a different idea of what will work best for their operation. We simply acknowledge that speed limiters are a good safety tool. We acknowledge that they are something that pretty much any new truck already has in it, and and the companies could control it if they wanted to, depending on how they want to program their trucks. There needs to be ways and means for drivers to have control and have overrides. But getting into they should be set at 65 or they should be set at 68 and they should never be able to exceed 70. We’re not getting into those things. We’re letting others carry the conversation, the fleets, the people who care to share the the opinions, especially when it comes to the public comment period. We’re going to encourage everybody. Send your comments in.

Andrew Winkler: Yeah, we’re we’re governed at 70 and I think that’s plenty fast we for a fleet our size and you catch comments from drivers all the time that say well if I could just go 72 then I could get around or why can’t we do the speed limit? So we get a lot of pressure with it as well. But at the end of the day, it is about safety for us. It’s about managing fuel costs and some of those responsibilities. So I’m content with where we’re at, but I know it’s the smaller guy that’s out there really pushing things.

Kent Grisham: Sure. Yeah. And you just really highlighted, I think, the reason why we have to be careful as an association getting too far into the weeds because your operation, you’ve determined that those speeds are sufficient, what level of driver control you give them for passing or for unforeseen circumstances on the road. You you’re doing that which is the best approach. Whereas somebody else might say, you know, I’m only running trucks on I 29 and I 90 getting them from point A to point B through the middle of nowhere in South Dakota, I should be able to go faster because it’s just wide open country, wide open roads. I’ve got nothing to worry about. Okay. That’s when the one size fits all solution from the government maybe isn’t the best.

Andrew Winkler: Yeah, it’s a fair argument. We certainly hear that. Now, when you were talking about that, it made me think about the insurance companies, you know, probably know what side they would stand on there. But I’m thinking about the small guy and the insurers out there. Why haven’t the insurance companies put more pressure on the. A small carriers to use those speed control devices. I’m curious. Yeah.

Kent Grisham: And and I’m not sure that I know exactly why other than they don’t have the they don’t have the backing of regulation to support it. You know the one thing I hear a lot about when it comes to speed limiters and other things, these rules are all being crafted by big shots on the East Coast where trucks speed limiter is pointless because a truck can never get up to.

Andrew Winkler: Going anywhere anyway.

Kent Grisham: Can’t get anywhere anyway, and the truck is never going to go that fast as it is. Yeah, you know, it’s not until you start getting into these flyover states like ours that which is not my term, by the way. It’s just what they call us, that the guys are like, Hey, I could make so much better time. I could be so much more efficient if I was able to do this. At least go with the flow of traffic. Right. These things, though, you know, a couple of years ago, there was a bill in the Nebraska legislature just to raise the speed limit on the interstate. And we were adamantly opposed to that. And in the end, there were a couple of senators who got up on the floor of the unicameral and said, the trucker, the truckers are against increasing the speed limit. We don’t understand why, because we would think they would want the higher speed limits, but they’re against it, so we shouldn’t do it. And what we had told them was, A, you’re creating an even wider differential because if you go from 75 to 80 on the speed limit, then the four wheelers are going to be doing 85 to 90, which they do now. Yes. But they would feel more freedom to do so. And the trucks are still regulated at 68, 70, and you’re creating that even greater differential, which creates even more frustration on the road between the commercial traffic and the personal traffic. And it’s just not a good place to build that level of frustration. And the legislature listened and we kept the speed limit at 75. So anybody out there who’s mad that the speed limit in Nebraska is still 75, you know who to blame? Yeah.

Andrew Winkler: Yeah. 75 is plenty. Plenty fast enough, in my opinion. Yeah. Hey, let’s talk a little bit about the drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse. What’s going on there? It’s been in place for a couple of years now.

Kent Grisham: About three. Yeah.

Andrew Winkler: And it’s certainly knocked a few out of our our industry for sure.

Kent Grisham: Well, I think that’s a bit of the wake up call that we all need to be listening to when it comes to the clearinghouse. Right, wrong or indifferent in the individual mind. I think the clearinghouse was something that was designed to add a layer of safety, the safety check of of being able to say as an industry, which I think we all can support, we don’t want drivers with a drug or alcohol problem. Absolutely not out on the road. And we know as an industry that prior to the clearinghouse, a driver would be able to fail a drug or alcohol test at Company A and be able to go down the road after he was fired from there, go down the road to Company B or C or D and probably be able to have gotten it out of his system. Take a pre-employment test, come in clean, get another driving job, and then be right back in that same position. Yeah.

Andrew Winkler: One of the things I noticed that’s changed on our end when I think about recruiting and stuff and the messaging that comes in or drivers calling in, are you SAP friendly? And you didn’t really hear that a lot. Yeah, several years ago. Now it’s much more common where these drivers, they have to have a sap have gone through a SAP program. Yeah. If they’ve had some kind of a dirty drug test in the past.

Kent Grisham: And it’s scary how many are not, you know, out of, I think almost 200,000. It was in it was around 180,000 positive tests. The last time I looked were like January statistics. And there were well, in fact, I wrote it down so I wouldn’t forget 100 plus 100,000 plus positive tests for marijuana, 177,000 total positive tests. When you encompass all drugs, 97,000 are still in prohibited status and 72,000 have not even enrolled in a return to work program.

Andrew Winkler: Means they just found something else to do. It means.

Kent Grisham: They found something else.

Andrew Winkler: To do. They’re out of.

Kent Grisham: Our industry and it means for for all of us, I think whether you’re in trucking or not, use that barometer as to what all this legalization of marijuana has done for us. The fact that people would choose to keep marijuana in their life over. This great career that they had says something really scary and really dramatic that I don’t think we have even begun to understand. You know, Nebraska is one of the few holdout states where we have not passed any kind of marijuana. Legalization comes up every legislative session. We oppose it every legislative session. And yet we know that we run the risk at some point of there being a ballot referendum petition signers, they’ve already tried it once. They couldn’t get the petitions organized correctly to get them on the ballot. If it goes to a ballot initiative, we’ll have no control. And what that says, what it looks like. So every year, even though we’re opposed to it, we carry on some really good conversations with state senators who are sponsoring that legislation and say this needs to acknowledge and reinforce the fact that there are safety sensitive jobs out there like professional truck drivers, that cannot under any circumstances participate in any of the things you’re talking about bringing into Nebraska.

Kent Grisham: And usually we’re met with support and a positive response to that because they acknowledge those safety sensitive professions need to stay clean, for lack of a better word. You know, the thing that I think most people don’t understand is that the the advent of the clearing House did nothing to change the rule about the fact that if you’re a CDL holder, you can’t use any kind of well, there are 14 different drugs that they test for. You can’t use them. And we’re going to test you periodically and your company is going to have a query requirement from the clearing house. And whether you like it or not, you’re going to have to come in, plus your post accident, plus your pre-employment tests that have to be done. All of those things are being registered and we’re going to keep track of you from now on. Does it feel like a Big brother approach? Yep. I don’t have a problem with that big brother.

Andrew Winkler: I feel safer with it too. I remember when it first went into effect, you know, that first six months it was a little chaotic. Yeah, there was drivers applying for jobs and they didn’t know anything about the clearing house. They didn’t know that they had to register and do those things. But it seemed like once you kind of got through that hump, it smoothed out. But I do feel better knowing that we’re catching more things that way and keeping these people off the road.

Kent Grisham: Yeah, yeah, for sure. And we just need to work on now what it looks like, you know, drivers in particular need to be aware that the whole CBD marketplace, the oils, the lotions, the drops, all of those things that are being marketed to all of us.

Andrew Winkler: At truck stops.

Kent Grisham: Truck stops, the truck stop. Exactly that. All of those things are completely and totally uncontrolled. There is no licensing, There is no testing. There are no standards by which those things have to be measured. And that means that some of those products have THC in them and THC can be absorbed through the skin. So, yes, professional driver, you can try CBD oil for your aching knees and end up with a positive marijuana test on a random two weeks later, it can happen to you. So find an alternative. Stick with Bengay, see a doctor. I don’t know. But smell. Yes.

Andrew Winkler: Yeah. No, I agree. So do you think any of this is kind of opening the doorway for hair testing? Where does that stand?

Kent Grisham: Hair testing is a really popular topic in the trucking industry. We as an industry, every association supports bringing hair testing into the federal clearinghouse system. There are employers, trucking companies that are using hair testing for their own internal purposes. But you hit a brick wall when you want to be able to submit hair test results to the clearinghouse. Can’t do it. And this is where you get into this big government, myriad of rules and different departments. It’s all still with the Department of Health and Human Services being able to approve the hair test for a official federal government database, blah, blah, blah. You and I were at the Truckload Carriers Association. We heard Robin Hutchison talking about the FMCSA director, talking about the progress being made through Health and Human Services. And then yet just within the last couple of weeks, there have been more testimony on Capitol Hill of the industry supporting hair testing. It’s more effective. It’s more accurate. It’s. Easier to run a hair testing program. And she clarified within the last couple of weeks because there was an impression that somehow this summer was going to be the time that we would see real movement. Not so much. Not so much. It’s not going to be this summer, according to her, sharing more information with the American Trucking Associations just recently.

Andrew Winkler: So I’m curious if somebody’s out there arguing against using hair testing, who is it?

Kent Grisham: Who’s who’s probably the same people? And I’m now I’m throwing out guesses, but I would guess it’s the same people who have a problem with the concept of the clearinghouse to begin with, being trapped in that kind of a database, having these tests pulled on you in a random way. I think they have the idea that. Andrew you walk out, you know, to the yard at some point and say, Hey, you, you and you come in here and I’m going to yank your hair and test it. I think they get that kind of a vision in their head when, of course, that’s not the way it’s going to work. It’s not the way anybody does it now. And it’s not going to be any different when the testing method becomes different, right?

Andrew Winkler: So for drivers that maybe don’t know how that those testing pools work and stuff, it’s every quarter you submit a full list of your your CDL drivers and employees and it’s kind of like a lotto. They draw certain random number of names. So you absolutely can get your name drawn multiple times in a row. So and it’s nobody’s picking on you. It’s just kind of luck of the draw.

Kent Grisham: It’s just kind of luck of the draw. Yeah. And if you get a positive, the clearinghouse database informs the state to take your CDL. They don’t take your operator’s license, they just downgrade you from whatever class of CDL you’re holding to a regular operator’s license. And then you have a certain period of time to go through a return to work program and retest. And many of them do. Many of them go through the program and retest before the state licensing agency has even been able to process their downgrade. Yes, and that’s wonderful. That’s what you want, you know, is to work with those guys. But then we have, you know, the vast 97,000, I think, or 72, whatever the number was that I looked up earlier, who just are like, okay, never mind, I’ll go. I still have a driver’s job. I’m going to go drive for somebody.

Andrew Winkler: That makes you wonder where those guys are working.

Kent Grisham: Oh, we we know. We. Yeah, there’s a whole lot of delivery vans being driven around by people who fell out of grace because of the clearinghouse.

Andrew Winkler: Let’s move our conversation out west. What are our friends in California doing? And I’m talking ab5 and independent contractor rule. Is there any movement on that? You know.

Kent Grisham: It’s the actual Ab5 rule is still making its way through the courts. There is still hope that we can get it pushed all the way up to the Supreme Court. And they will they will look at the merits of the case, the definitions of an independent contractor, and that they will see that that it’s kind of a naked approach to union labor, wanting to get everybody in California that gets behind the wheel classified as a carrier employee because they think that there’s more money to be made. Stability protections, all those things, the things that most independent contractors will say, nope, really doesn’t work that way. And I’m building this great life for myself as an independent contractor because I have some say, I have some control. I can do as much with this as what I want Ab5 itself. There was an injunction on its enforcement. You know, this and and the injunction made it to the Supreme Court and they refused to hear it, which meant the injunction would be automatically lifted and California could start to enforce Ab5 even though it was still subject to these lawsuits. It’s not yet law of the land.

Kent Grisham: It only applies in California. Like so many other population groups. We’re seeing a bit of an exodus out of California. Right? Of truck drivers and trucking companies. And I guess is another way of illustrating how dangerous these things can be when one state is able in any way to enforce its will. Blue, red, otherwise, on all states with a willing partner in the federal government is some of these environmental initiatives you. I. Everybody that works in the trucking industry wants the most ecologically sound and ecologically friendly trucking system in the country that we can possibly have. But there’s a way to get there, and you don’t get there by having a bunch of politicians yell and shame each other and and say all these ridiculous things and proclaim when the world is going to end. And somehow, if that’s true, we can stop it and say that we’re going to have half the trucking fleet be battery electric by 2035, and the federal EPA come along with a rule that says, okay, we’re just going to adopt that. We’re just we’re going to go ahead and use California’s rules. So out of.

Andrew Winkler: Touch.

Kent Grisham: It’s unbelievable. Yeah, the technology isn’t there. The batteries aren’t there. The charging infrastructure isn’t there. Yes, for sure. And we our federal representatives that represent our trade, like the American Trucking Association, the Truckload Carriers Association, some of the others, and even state associations like ours have joined the coalitions that are forming or have formed to try to try to be better about banging the drum. Because we weren’t we kind of let this happen because we haven’t been vocal enough leading up to this point we’re at now. You know, there’s there are some great studies that have come out in just the last year that, for example, hydrogen fuel cells are actually tremendously friendlier to the environment than battery electric in trucks. But it’s hard to get anybody to talk about hydrogen fuel cells when the politicians are all electric batteries.

Andrew Winkler: Electric. Yeah, they’ve got to give us time to get there. They do. And that’s that’s really the hard part. And we’ve seen it before. Just in the diesel regulations over the years. They push and push and push and the manufacturers push out these diesel engines that they’re not ready for the market. They’re not. And who ends up paying the price? It’s us. The truck lines that can’t keep things running.

Kent Grisham: There is a reason why you don’t see a whole lot of battery electric truck testing taking place. Draw a line across the country where Nebraska’s southern border is kind of the base mark and everything north of there, you don’t see a whole lot of battery electric trucks being tested north of there because they know the trucks can’t perform in the winter the way they do. Same thing with automated trucks. You don’t see a whole lot of those being tested in the northern states. You see hear about great stories, great success stories of these trucks that are running full routes from California to Florida. It got all the way there with no human driver intervention. An okay, sure. California to Florida who couldn’t drive that? You know not that it’s not hard work, but you know what I mean. Right. Go ahead. Let’s bring it up here and have it make the full run from I-80, where it begins all the way out to California through snow, sleet, God knows what else. Traffic jams, mountains, mountain ranges, all that. Let’s see that and then we’ll start to talk about implementation.

Andrew Winkler: So do you think drivers I mean, do they have a fear? Do they need to have a fear of electric trucks coming too soon, or is it still a ways off? Is it a lot of hype right now?

Kent Grisham: I think we are in a hyped up environment. And again, part of that goes to who we have in office, because the ranking politicians right now are are feeding that hype instead of trying to balance it. You know, we’ll again, elections matter. What will happen when we have a new election in 2024? Will we see a shift into a more realistic and I’ll say conservative, not not trying to pick a political ideology, but just saying, hey, let’s be conservative about how we approach these industry altering decisions. Right. Let’s be realistic and say we don’t have the charging infrastructure. Even if we did, where’s the electricity coming from? Hey, it’s not magical.

Andrew Winkler: There’s so many questions out there. Yeah, Geez.

Kent Grisham: And in Nebraska, we have an even deeper question. We are the country’s only 100% public power state. You cannot resell power in Nebraska. You can charge for time on a charger or you are going to be faced with the utility companies being the ones that have to handle all the. Charging. We haven’t had that discussion. We got to get through that first before there can really be widespread, widespread commercial charging. And you and I know a company member of the MTA, I don’t have permission to name them in this story, but it’s a true story. They were looking to completely rebuild a terminal in Illinois. And as part of their forward thinking, they said, look, we can go ahead and install and build out the electrical charging infrastructure that we would need to charge 50 trucks at a time in this yard. So let’s go ahead and put it in, because sooner or later we’re going to need it. All the engineering stuff got done, all the blueprints put together. They took it to the state of Illinois. State of Illinois says, oh, no, no, no, no, you can’t build that because if you turned those on, it would take more power than the city that it’s sitting next to.

Andrew Winkler: In that sum.

Kent Grisham: Yeah. So they didn’t they didn’t build it. So now they’ll have to go back and put it back in once the city figures out how to power both itself and the charging trucks. And that’s for one fleet in one terminal.

Andrew Winkler: Yeah. I think the drivers are pretty safe when I think about that. I’ve always felt like that it’s a lot of hype and just your story illustrated. Even the governments that are pushing it aren’t ready. Aren’t ready. Yeah, yeah.

Kent Grisham: So California, we have a member who had a contract to run some short haul stuff out of the port, the Long Beach port down there. You know, the one that’s kind of famous for being so backed up all the time and, you know, anticipating the you have to go all electric in California. He bought a small fleet of electric trucks, had them delivered out there and had the chargers to be installed and the port would not allow him to charge to install the Chargers or charge the trucks because they don’t have enough power as it is to keep the port itself fully functional with their brownouts. So he had these brand new trucks that sat there with depleted batteries. He couldn’t turn around and sell them to anybody because they couldn’t certify the batteries because they were depleted. So he ended up having to have them towed somewhere where they could get charged, where he could sell them back off.

Andrew Winkler: Well, thanks for bringing us up to speed on all the regulations that are going on in Washington. That was super helpful.

Kent Grisham: Was it positive, though? I feel like I think so.

Andrew Winkler: Yeah, I do. I think so. I mean, we we figured out that electric trucks are probably a ways off. The drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse is a good thing. Speed limiters may or may not happen. Yeah. You know, I think it’s just one of those things that.

Everybody gets wound up about. But you don’t even know the whole story yet, right? Yeah. So we just appreciate you being on the show.

Kent Grisham: Well, I enjoyed it.

Andrew Winkler: Thanks for joining us on this episode of Driven Too Far. Don’t forget to hit the subscribe button so you never miss an episode.

As we wrap up this episode of Driven Too Far, it’s clear that speed limiters remain a contentious issue in the trucking industry. While regulations are necessary to ensure safety on our highways, finding the right balance between efficiency and safety can be a challenge.

As technology advances and new studies emerge, it will be interesting to see how the discussion around speed limiters evolves. We hope this conversation has shed some light on the topic and encourages continued dialogue between truck drivers, industry leaders, and policymakers. Thank you for joining us, and we’ll see you on the next episode of Driven Too Far.