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Why higher speed limits for trucks will kill more people: Physics

Michigan’s proposed new law to increase speed limits for large commercial trucks and buses is a very dangerous idea

speed limit trucks

Yesterday, I wrote about the perilous Senate Bills 895-898, which would allow  trucks and buses to speed up to 70 miles per hour – up 10 mph from the current law.

Speed kills. It’s not just a catchy safety phrase. It’s science. And it’s a hard fact that I see in many of the truck accident cases that I’ve litigated as an attorney who practices in this area of law.

The largest studies to date found an exponential increase in risk of a car driver being killed in a crash as the automobile increases in speed, according to O’Day and Flora (1982) and Joksch (1993) and presented by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

And the relationship of speed to crash severity is unequivocal, according to yet another large study by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety.  Velocity change in a car crash (or bus accident or truck wreck) is a critical measure of crash severity.

Now let’s change that car (average weight 4,079 pounds) to a fully-loaded commercial truck – a truck that’s going now moving in excess of 70 miles per hour. An 80,000 moving brick wall, compared to an average, 4,000-pound car.

Nearly 5,000 people are killed every year in truck crashes.  That number will surely rise in Michigan if the speed law changes. That number will also increase nationally, as the trucking lobby pushes for increased weight limits, and now lawmakers are pushing for higher speed limits.

Again, it’s a matter of  physics: Truck accidents by their very nature normally involve much more serious personal injury and have higher fatality rates because of their sheer size and mass.

Why would these lawmakers who  are charged to protect the public, want to raise speed limits for large trucks and buses?  Why enable heavy trucks to speed, especially given the truck safety crisis that exists today?

There’s a common theme to the truck accident cases I litigate: I see so many  trucking companies pushing drivers to drive past safe federally-regulated hours, who look the other way with drivers who are using drugs and alcohol, or who have caused too many traffic violations (the top predictor of a future crash). These dangerous truck companies often hire unsafe truckers because they’re cheaper.

I see many of these companies running poorly maintained fleets, and skimping on safety and training and maintenance.

I even see the worst of these companies – the ones that kill too many people or get caught with too many safety violations – reincarnating themselves overnight into new companies with new names but who  continue operating with the same trucks and drivers.

The problem hasn’t been solved.  The problem is getting worse.

Are these the types of trucks we want sharing the roads with our families – but traveling even faster behind us?

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Blog Author Steven M. Gursten
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