It’s been a good decade plus since many of the trucks along Europe’s busy roadways have been governed by speed limiters. And regulation continues to tighten.
In the European Union, heavy goods vehicles above 12 tonnes and buses above 10 tonnes have been outfitted with speed limiters since 1994, under Directive 92/6/EC.
As of January 2005, though, amendments to this Directive went into force and any new registrations of light commercial vehicles above 3.5 tonnes and buses with more than eight seats now also have to be equipped with a speed limiter (under Directive 2002/85/EC).
According to Jacques Marmy, Head, Technical Affairs at the International Road Transport Union in Geneva, vehicles above 3,5 tonnes registered after 1 October 2001 had until January 1, 2006 to get outfitted with a speed limiter. He says maximum limited speed is 90 kph for light commercial vehicles and heavy goods vehicles (all commercial vehicles above 3,5 tonnes). Maximum limited speed is 100 kph for buses and coaches.
The maximum speed in most of the EU Member States for heavy duty commercial vehicles, meanwhile, is 80 kph. In some member states the maximum speed of trucks and buses, then, is lower than the maximum speed of the speed limiter!
And in some countries, such as the Netherlands, since 1 July 2005 some buses have permission to drive 100 kph, he adds.
“All Member States’ ministries of transport just synchronized the maximum limited speeds. Most of the transport operators were against it. But it is an implemented law and the transport operators have to be aligned with their national law,” says Marmy.
Drivers in Europe, says Marmy, have indicated they feel somewhat more under pressure and try to gain some driving time when loading and reloading their cargo under speed limited conditions.
Johan de Mol, researcher at The Centre for Sustainable Development at Belgium’s University of Ghent, says a recent sampling of 1050 drivers and 67 transport companies found that a lot of drivers were in favor of the speed limiter because they now got the possibility to drive at a safe speed without being punished by the transport company when delivering goods too late.
“Other truck drivers – and also owners of one or two trucks weren’t in favor because they try to transport goods at a bargain price. They thought by running faster and doing more hours they could survive in the transport market,” he says.
“We also found that 17 % of the bus drivers and 19 % of the truck drivers manipulated the speed limiter. In 30 % of the cases the drivers answered that the manipulation was made possible by the company. The transport companies answered that in 7 % of the vehicles there was a possibility of manipulating the speed limiter. With the electronic speed limiter it is more or too difficult to manipulate the speed limiters. The use of an electronic tachograph has also made the control on speed easier,” says De Mol.
He summarizes the potential impact of a reduction of speed through speed limiters with the following list: a direct reduction of CO2 and NOx emissions with respectively 0,33Mton and 1.7 k/ton in 2010, a reduction of CO2 and NOx emissions of respectively 24 k/ton and 8 ton, and a reduction of damage and wear to vehicles in order of size of 12,5 million Euros, (17 million CAD) where approximately 10 million euros (14 million CAD) per year would constitute the cost of changing tires alone.
De Mol says a not quantified saving on speed fines is also predicted, as well as a savings on travel time of all traffic resulting from less structural and incidental congestion.
Speed limiting in the UK presents a special case
For heavy goods vehicles (over 3.5tonnes but under 7.5t) and passenger vehicles (with over 8 passenger seats and a design weight n/e 5.0t) used solely within the UK, the speed limiter requirement is deferred to 1 January 2008.
The UK had strongly opposed the adoption of European Directive 2002/ 85/EC, not seeing immediate benefits of fitting speed limiters to the ‘lighter’ categories of vehicle covered by it, and saying that it would be hard to quantify these in any realistic way.
In a 2003 consultation letter the UK’s Department for Transport, seeking industry views on the amendments, said it was alone in voting against it, and “now has no choice other than to implement its provisions. That said, there are transitional provisions within the Directive which, if utilized, will have the effect of delaying implementation for certain categories of vehicle. The UK proposes to take full advantage of these provisions,” said DFT.
To oppose the new provisions could also have proved a barrier to trade for the UK and a red tape nightmare in the context of dealing with other EU member states.
“The additional benefits of implementing the Directive (arose) primarily because of the fact that the UK would be liable to damages claims in the European Court in respect of anyone who could show that non-implementation by the UK had caused them loss or damage. Any vehicle operator or manufacturer in any other EU State could make such claims – on the grounds that the UK was putting them at a competitive disadvantage by non-implementation of the Directive. In any event, the UK would ultimately be compelled to implement the Directive in any event,” said the paper.
In terms of measuring what speed limiters have done to accident rates in the UK, Hayley Bowen, Driver, Vehicle & Operator Policy Unit at the UK’s Department for Transport, says the rising volume of traffic in the UK makes it difficult to measure the accidents involving trucks using absolute figures. The more appropriate method of measuring the impact of speed limited vehicles on road safety figures is the measure of accident involvement rates.
“The accident involvement rate on motorways (per hundred million vehicle kphs) fell from 6.4 for all heavy goods vehicles in 1991 (before the mandatory fitting of speed limiters was introduced) to 4.3 in 2002 – which is a 34% decrease. This is significant, particularly as traffic volume increased by 33% over the same period. The above figures include accidents involving currently non-speed limited heavy goods vehicles between 3.5 and 7.5 tonnes. However, the reduction in accidents for exclusively speed limited vehicles may be even more significant. All articulated HGVs are speed limited and the accident involvement rate for that vehicles class fell from 6.7 in 1991 to 3.9 in 2002 – a 42% decrease. Of course, other contributing factors may also have influenced that decline, including increased traffic congestion, but speed limiters have clearly played a part,” says Bowen.
But while they prevent exceeding the motorway limit, limiters have no effect at lower speeds or on any other aspect of performance such as the ability of the vehicle to accelerate, Bowen adds.
And it is this argument that some drivers have used to describe why they might not be a major deterrent.
Chris Lamb, a professional truck (“lorry”) driver and creator of the website Cybertrucker.com, says his site aims to “spread the word about the dangers caused by the speed limiters”.
“I’ve had the dubious pleasure of driving for tens of thousands of miles in vehicles fitted with speed limiters, and limiters are in fact the main reason I gave up driving lorries, as I decided that there was too much risk of killing myself with a speed limiter. Plus it turned every day into a nightmare of boredom and frustration,” he tells Motortruck.
Lamb suggests that speed limiters may in some instances cause some drivers to rationalize making the decision to speed up on secondary roads if they find they cannot save time on the motorways.
“The limiter, having failed to stop the nutter doing anything dangerous, has now stopped the responsible driver from doing something safe. Where is our nutter by the way? Oh, he’s not on the motorway at all. He has decided that, as he cannot save time by ‘winding it up’ on the motorway, he will
take a short cut through some villages, where he can do 50mph (80 kph), despite the limit being 30mph (ca 50 kph). So, no increase in safety, but extra danger being created on A-roads,” says Lamb.
The Association of British Drivers says that speed limiters applied to any type of vehicle are detrimental to road safety, as they take responsibility away from the driver for selecting a safe speed.
“There is a tendency for drivers to rely on the technology to make them safe, and driving is too complex a task for that. It is also unlikely that there are any noticeable benefits in fuel consumption, as drivers are denied the opportunity to accelerate on downhill sections in order to gain momentum to help them up the other side,” says spokesman Malcolm Heymer, Association of British Drivers.
Says the UK’s Road Haulage Association, which represents some 10,000 companies in membership varying from major companies with over 5,000 vehicles down to single vehicle owner-drivers, “Vehicle technology has advanced considerably. Anti-lock breaking systems (ABS) have been compulsory on new commercial vehicles since the early 1990s – as a result a large proportion of the current fleet would be fitted with them. Despite this, on a single carriageway (laneway) road attracting a national speed limit of 60mph (ca 97 kph), heavy goods vehicles are required to travel at or below 40mph (ca 65 kph). Not only does this seem inappropriate to many drivers but we believe it may actually be causing more accidents as other vehicles (whose drivers are not aware of the limits for HGVs) take unnecessary risks in an attempt to overtake what they consider to be excessively slow-moving vehicles,” says RHA in a statement.
Another serious problem, says Lamb, is that with speed limiters, as all the lorries now peak at the same speed, “they tend to bunch together on motorways, whereas before there were always faster lorries, and slower ones, and ones in between, so they tended to string out more. One problem caused by this bunching is that, with long lines of lorries travelling “nose to tail”, in the event of an accident, you are now more likely to get a multiple pile-up than you were when they were more strung out,” he says.
“The snag is, on a fairly densely packed motorway, if you have got a block of traffic doing 56mph (90 kph), a couple of miles behind that you have got traffic doing 30mph (ca. 50 kph.h), and behind that you have got stationary traffic. Apart from the inconvenience, stationary traffic on motorways causes accidents. Add to this the fact that lorries can no longer take a run at gradients, which means their speed on long climbs will be even slower, and you have got some serious potential for accidents. No increase in safety, but a significant increase in danger,” he adds.
While the case for increased safety is still being argued on both sides, the success of speed limiters depends in large part on good enforcement. The role this can play in targeting speeding and unsafe driving is not to be overlooked, adds RHA.
“As well as increasing compliance, it also helps to promote fairness – operators who comply with speed limits may suffer a commercial disadvantage compared with those breaking the limits. The RHA also believes that educating road users about the behaviour and characteristics of other road users and vehicles can play an important part in reducing accidents whether they are caused by speed or by other factors.”
In the EU Member States, says Marmy, a driver that has tampered with the speed limiter will be fined and a legal procedure is put into force, but it’s up to each member state to regulate the procedures.
In the U.K., the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) – an executive agency of DFT, carry out regular roadside enforcement checks on commercial vehicles to ensure they are roadworthy.
“It is very easy for enforcement action to be taken against any European operator who does not have a properly functioning speed limiter fitted on their vehicle,” says Bowen.
This includes a check of the speed limiter functionality. Where no speed limiter is fitted or where it is not functioning correctly, disciplinary action can be taken such as the issuing of a prohibition. In these circumstances, the vehicle cannot be used any further until a speed limiter has been installed or repaired.
“If there is evidence of tampering with a speed limiter, VOSA can take enforcement action against the driver and/or operator which in serious cases, could involve the removal of an operator’s license, thereby preventing them from running a vehicle fleet,” says Bowen, who adds that it will become less easy to enforce the speed limiter requirements as more and more vehicles have the speed limiter functionality applied by the engine management unit (EMU) rather then by the fitting of a mechanical speed limitation device.
Where the speed limiter functionality is contained within the EMU, VOSA examiners will check tachograph readouts to look for evidence of a continual period of speeding in excess of the restricted speed.
May 2006, meanwhile, will see the mandatory introduction of digital tachographs in Europe, to enforce driving times and rest periods.
European Commission Vice-President Jacques Barrot, in charge of Transport policy, says that after this date member states will be obliged to enforce the relevant provisions, and that new trucks registered after that date and which do not have an operating digital tachograph can be blocked at any time.
Use of offside lanes
As further categories of vehicles are fitted with a speed limiter following the implementation of Directive 2002/85/EC, they will be banned from using the outside lane of three or more lane motorways in the U.K.
Bowen says that subject to public consultation, it is also likely that the Motorways Traffic Regulations will be further amended in January 2008 (when the transitional provisions in the Directive end) to ban all goods vehicles over 3.5 tonnes and all buses with more than 8 passenger seats from using the outside lane. The motorway speed limit for such vehicles will then likely be reduced from the current 70mph (112 kph) to 60mph (96 kph).
“This will ensure that all such vehicles will be subject to the same speed restrictions, including those vehicles outside the scope of Directive 2002/85/EC, i.e. goods vehicles between 3.5 and 7.5 tonnes and buses up to 7.5 tonnes which were first registered before 1 October 2001,” says Bowen.
Currently, Bowen adds, the mileage covered by speed limited vehicles on motorways accounts for something less than 10% of total motor vehicle traffic.
“So the overall effect on mean speeds of other vehicles in free flowing conditions on three lane motorways has been comparatively small. Of course, the effect on two lane motorways has probably been more noticeable. However, in busy conditions, average speeds are usually below the speed limiter setting and therefore should have no effect on the ‘capacity’ of the road,” says Bowen.
Drivers like Lamb, meanwhile, prefer to be off the roads than to drive in the sorts of conditions they say the limiters impose.
“I am in favour of anything that makes the roads safer. I’m all for tachographs, and for the tightening of the hours regulations. I genuinely believe, however that speed limiters are at best pointless, and at worst dangerous. They contribute practically nothing to road safety, and cause serious danger. Whilst pollution control is a very worthwhile aim, it must not be done at the expense of safety. There are other measures which can be taken to reduce fuel consumption and exhaust emissions which do not cause danger. Diesel and carbon dioxide cannot be saved at the expense of peoples’ lives,” he says.
Managing Editor Julia Kuzeljevich has been writing about transportation issues for five years. Her meticulously researched articles have garnered several Canadian Business Press Award nominations.
In the March/April 2006 issue of Motortruck, a feature o
n speed limiters (page 18) erroneously listed Chris Lamb as owner of www.cybertrucker.com. Lamb is in fact the creator of www.cybertrucker.co.uk. Motortruck apologizes for the error.