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Truck tires: Fast and furious sparks new regulation

A number of truck accidents involving tire blowouts triggered a National Highway Traffic Safety investigation last year. Truckers had reported 16 incidents involving specific Michelin tires. While there were only three crashes -- with no injuries -- it is not hard to understand the drivers' and their employers' concern.

After just a few months, the agency closed the investigation. The conclusion was that the tires were underinflated, and the responsible parties were the drivers or the trucking companies. However, the report noted, almost as an aside, that the blowouts all occurred when the 18-wheelers were driving faster than the tires' speed rating. The Michelins, like almost all tractor-trailer tires, were not designed for sustained speeds of 75 mph or greater.

The truck operators should be aware of those ratings, but they are also aware that 14 states, most of them west of the Mississippi, have posted highway speed limits between 75 mph and 85 mph. These are rural highways, with long stretches of flat roadway and not too much traffic. The idea is to facilitate the movement of goods across the country safely -- except that safe roads are not the same thing as safe vehicles.

Pennsylvania's highways are well-traveled by tractor-trailers. We are not only part of the Eastern Seaboard highway network, but we are home to more than 300 miles of cross-country route, Interstate 80. The state's highest speed limit is 70 mph, and trucks can go no faster than 70 mph on rural highways.

The NHTSA took note of the speed rating problem and decided it was time to address the issue. This is by no means the first time regulators have broached the subject, but perhaps the timing is right. With the help of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the NHTSA has drafted a rule that would require speed limiters on all tractor-trailers.

These devices, also called speed governors, will keep the trucks from exceeding a specific speed limit. The speed limit in the proposed rule will not be made public for a couple of months; the Office of Management and Budget must first approve the draft. Once that is done, the proposed rule will be opened for public comment and edited again before it goes into effect.

It could be a while before the rule takes effect, but there is always a chance that truckers and trucking companies will choose to be "early adopters" of the technology.


Commercial Carrier Journal, "Rule to mandate speed limiters for heavy trucks sent to White House for approval," James Jaillet, May 19, 2015

Casper Star Tribune, "Many truck tires can't handle higher speed limits; wrecks and blowouts cited," Tom Krisher, March 31, 2015

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