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Truckers not in any hurry to drive faster

Carriers say higher speeds not worth the risks, costs by Noel Oman | March 16, 2015 at 3:00 a.m. | Updated March 15, 2015 at 11:39 p.m.

Don't expect to see a lot of big trucks barreling down the interstate at 70 mph.

That's what executives at trucking firms said last week after the Arkansas Highway Commission's decision to remove the 65 mph speed limit for heavy trucks on rural interstates.

Arkansas Department of Highway and Transportation employees are scheduled to take down the old speed limit signs for trucks beginning today.

Since 1996, trucks traveling in Arkansas have been limited to 65 mph on rural interstate sections while other vehicles could go 70 mph. Research has shown that the different speeds don't promote efficient traffic flow, and none of the states surrounding Arkansas use the different speeds, according to the order the commission adopted.

All vehicles have the same speed limits on suburban interstates (65 mph) and urban interstates (60 mph).

Arkansas and other states have set their own speed limits since passage of the National Highway System Designation Act of 1995, which repealed federal speed limits. At the time, federal speed limits were 55 mph and 65 mph.

The Arkansas Trucking Association long has supported the rule change but acknowledges that whether trucks will use the higher speed would be up to individual carriers.

Trucking executives who spoke with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette last week said their companies use electronic governors to limit the speeds of their trucks to 65 mph or slower and that they don't plan to adjust them.

"Everyone wants to go faster, but our drivers understand why we don't," said Russell Overla, executive vice president for truckload operations at USA Truck, which is based in Van Buren. "We stay below 65. We have no plans to change that right now. We're not going to make adjustments."

The company has a fleet of 2,100 trucks that he said primarily operate east of a line from Minneapolis to Kansas City, Mo., to San Antonio to Laredo, Texas.

The major factor in keeping the trucks at 65 mph or slower is safety, the trucking company executives said. Another factor is fuel economy.

"The more speed there is the less flexibility a driver has to avoid a bad situation," Dennis Hilton, vice president of safety for CalArk International in Little Rock, said in an email. "Everyone is aware that the faster a vehicle travels the more fuel that it will consume."

CalArk operates a fleet of more than 600 trucks that are limited by governors to 65 mph on cruise control and 62 mph when they aren't on cruise, Hilton said. The company will leave the governors set as they are, he said.

Another factor is that "it is difficult to adjust the speeds to [conform] with the different states' regulations," Hilton added.

Companies based outside Arkansas contacted by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette said their fleets weren't going to adjust the governors on their trucks, either.

"We do have an electronic governor on our trucks limiting them to 62 mph," said Joe Weigel, a spokesman for Celadon Trucking, which is based in Indianapolis but has a terminal in North Little Rock.

The commission order "will have absolutely no impact on our fleet," he said. "It's primarily safety, although there is a bit of a fuel savings component, as well."

Celadon has a fleet totaling between 3,500 and 4,000 trucks, Weigel said.

The American Trucking Association has a petition pending before the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration seeking a mandatory nationwide speed limit of 65 mph for trucks, also citing safety.

"Speed is a factor in a great number of crashes," said Sean McNally, a spokesman for the organization. "It makes minor crashes worse. It makes major crashes catastrophic."

For the association, the fuel savings is secondary, but McNally said 65 mph "is sort of that sweet spot, safety and efficiency."

A study by the American Transportation Research Institute in support of the federal speed limit for trucks found that nearly 70 percent of trucking companies surveyed had governors on their trucks set at 65 mph or slower.

The association would rather have seen the commission enact an order requiring all vehicles to travel at 65 mph.

"We realize that it's not a popular position," McNally said.

The Highway Department said the purpose of the new rule was to eliminate differential speeds for cars and trucks, a situation now found in only five other states.

What the commission order does "is give all drivers the opportunity to drive at that rate [70 mph]," said Randy Ort, a department spokesman. "They don't have to."

Information for this article was contributed by Robbie Neiswanger of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Metro on 03/16/2015

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