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Pushing the limit

Support is growing among provincial trucking associations for a national policy on mandatory activation of speed limiters based on the model developed by the Ontario Trucking Association, says the Can...

Support is growing among provincial trucking associations for a national policy on mandatory activation of speed limiters based on the model developed by the Ontario Trucking Association, says the Canadian Trucking Alliance. At the same time, it’s fair to say, owner/operator associations and drivers remain vehemently opposed.

In such a polarized debate, it can be difficult to evaluate the true impact such legislation could have on the industry. But although the debate is a hot one in Canada at the moment, it’s an old one in other parts of the world. In countries where these limiters are already part of policy or practice, what has experience shown? What can it teach us? In a special two-part report, Motortruck canvassed industry and driver associations, as well as government institutions, to provide answers to those questions. We begin with a look at the impact of the legislation on Australia’s trucking industry.


In Australia, speed limiters were made mandatory in 1990, under Australian Design Rule (ADR) 65. This required all heavy trucks over 12 tonnes gross vehicle mass (GVM) and all buses over five tonnes GVM to be fitted with a speed limiter and that it be set to no more than 100 km/h.

ADR 65 also provided flexibility for jurisdictions to regulate speed limiter settings for other vehicle classes; for example, road trains are speed limited to 90 km/h in South Australia and the Northern Territory.

“I believe the industry looked favourably at moves to introduce speed limiters. Some although still believe today that in rural/regional Australia there should be no speed limit. This is however an overwhelmingly minority view. Fatigue and speed are our two biggest issues – accounting for about 30% and 35% of accidents, respectively, involving heavy vehicles and where the HV driver is partially or fully at fault. It’s an issue and the industry accepts that there is a problem,” says David Rynne, national policy manager, safety & environment, Australian Trucking Association.

The Australian Trucking Association’s heavy vehicle speed policy promotes tighter speed controls as part of its ongoing safety and compliance program. But ATA says that speed management should relate to all vehicles and requires a cultural change over the long run so that the community considers speeding as anti-social.

“Our stats tell us that there is not a high incidence of gross speeding (i.e >15kms/hr over posted speed limit) but more inappropriate speed for the conditions,” he adds.

Indeed, a 1996 review from Australia’s National Road Transport Commission looked into what motivates drivers to speed, and found that speed choice for truck drivers largely depended on the prevailing weather, traffic density, police presence and road conditions. While truck drivers are concerned about speed limit differentials between heavy vehicles and the prevailing speeds of other traffic, they consciously trade off speed and risks of prosecution and crashing; regarding fines as a cost of doing business. And they are still under considerable pressure from consignors and operators to deliver on time, and are subject to financial and suasive penalties.

Chris Brooks, senior adviser, road safety, Australian Transport Safety Bureau, says that having trucks and light vehicles moving at different speeds hasn’t provided evidence of a safety problem in Australia.

“There is no good evidence that a 10 km/h differential between light vehicle and truck speed limits creates a safety problem. If there is any such problem at all, it is small compared to the safety benefits of running trucks at 100 km/h rather than 110 km/h.”

“On roads where the light vehicle limit is 110 km/h, there would certainly be a safety advantage in reducing the light vehicle limit to 100 but this would be a result of reducing the absolute speeds of light vehicles, not reducing the speed differential. On the same roads, increasing the heavy vehicle limit to 110 would result in a safety disadvantage for two reasons. First, higher heavy vehicle speeds on those roads. Second, speed limiter requirements would need to be relaxed, and if that happened mean HV speeds would be likely to increase on other roads with 100 km/h general limits. Increasing heavy vehicle speeds from 100 to 110 would also have substantial adverse consequences for fuel consumption and emissions of noxious and greenhouse gases. The economic benefit of reduced HV travel times would be less than the economic costs of increased crashes, casualties and emissions,” Brooks says.

What about the proposition that speed differentials will lead to more overtaking, and hence more serious crashes?

“In fact, overtaking-related crashes on rural roads are surprisingly uncommon…It may be that on two-lane roads with a general speed limit of 110 km/h, the presence of speed-limited trucks tends to constrain light vehicle speeds. If so, there may well be a substantial net safety benefit that would be lost if trucks were permitted to travel faster. On roads with 4 or more lanes, speed limit differentials should be even less of a problem than on 2-lane roads (to the extent that there is any safety problem at all),” says Brooks.

But Australia’s National Road Transport Commission acknowledges that even when fitted with an effective speed limiter, heavy vehicles can travel at speeds beyond the speed limiter setting. This is particularly the case when heavily loaded vehicles travel downhill and the driver chooses not to brake. On this basis, speeding can be both a driver and a vehicle (speed limiter) offence. The driver can be subject to a behaviour offence and the operator can be subject to an offence related to the condition of the speed limiter.”

“It is possible for a speed-limited vehicle to reach speeds in excess of 15 km/h above the speed-limited speed if going downhill when at or near maximum legal mass,” says the NRTC.

Peter Cairney, a consultant with Australia’s ARRB Transport Research Ltd., investigated the issue during the early days of speed limiter introduction.

“That work showed that many vehicles which were supposed to be limited to a nominal 100 km/h (105 in practice) were travelling at speeds well in excess of that. There was no institutional/audit mechanism to ensure that the governing mechanism continued to be set at 105 km/h after the trucks entered service. This appears to be an ongoing problem. Truck safety has improved in Australia over the period, but it’s difficult to identify any effects specifically due to speed limiters,” he says.

But Cairney notes that the use of the limiters along with some more stringent enforcement practices and a change in the chain of responsibility, may change this.

“There have been two recent developments which may help to change all this. Australia is in the process of implementing some significant road safety reforms, which include legislation that enforces responsible behaviour through the whole chain of responsibility, so that it is not simply the truck driver who would be investigated in the case of a speeding offence, but the operator (why wasn’t the speed limiter working? Why were they putting the driver in a position where he had to speed?) and the consignor (were they making unreasonable demands on the transport contractor to deliver in a short time?) We have yet to see how all this plays out,” he says.


To harmonize policy and enforcement between its states and territories, Australia created the National Transport Commission (NTC) in 1991.

The NTC recently led a discussion paper on managing heavy vehicles speeding, Neil Wong, senior policy analyst-safety and environment, with Australia’s National Transport Commission, informed Motortruck.

That is to become draft policy with recommendations to be made to a Council of Australia’s nine Transport and Roads ministers.

The report estimates that if all heavy vehicles complied with speed limits, a 29% reduction in heavy vehicle crashes
could be expected and this has led to strong agreement from governments and industry in Australia that heavy vehicle speeding needs to be addressed as a priority.

To that end, the National Heavy Vehicle Safety Strategy 2003-2010 was adopted by the Australian Transport Council (ATC) (consisting of the nine transport ministers from the Commonwealth, States and Territories), with aims to achieve reduced fatalities and injuries where a heavy vehicle is involved.

“But heavy vehicle speed compliance is only one of the links between speed and heavy vehicle safety outcomes. The setting of speed limits and the management of light vehicle speeds are among the other important factors that will determine the number of heavy vehicle crashes in the future,” says the Council.

In terms of current enforcement, on-road police enforcement is the major initiative across the country to control heavy vehicle speeds but isn’t targeted as such to heavy vehicles alone.

Victoria and New South Wales have been testing point-to-point speed detection equipment aimed at heavy vehicle speeding on the major freight routes. In New South Wales and South Australia, meanwhile, there is a Safe-T-Cam program in place which uses Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology to determine if a heavy vehicle has travelled at excessive average speed, or has travelled beyond prescribed driving hours.

The South Australian Police (SAPOL) maintains a specialist unit which provides the primary enforcement focus upon the heavy road transport sector. Its highway patrol vehicles are fitted with onboard computers which check the engine settings of vehicles and identify tampering. Approximately 30% of all targeted heavy vehicles stopped by the specialist unit have revealed some form of illicit tampering with the speed limiter, found SAPOL, which has also intercepted several trucks that have been found to be carrying a stock of devices for overriding the speed limiter, presumably for sale and installation on other trucks. According to one Australian owner-operator, “It was common for operators to disconnect the electronics for the speed limiters, but it is becoming harder to bypass.”


The National Transport Commission study has outlined several policy recommendations to increase the chances that speed limiters and other heavy vehicle speed controls will be better enforced and observed in Australia.

One recommendation is making speed limiters more tamper evident. NTC has had discussions with truck and engine manufacturers about this option.

The increased use of speed deeming, which exists in Queensland, would enable a speed limited vehicle to be issued with a defect notice if it is detected travelling over 115 km/h. The vehicle requires re-certification of the speed limiter or confirmation that the vehicle’s speed limiter was functional before being allowed back onto the road. In New South Wales, meanwhile, legislation has been introduced in 2005 that deems that the speed limiter is noncompliant if the vehicle was detected travelling at over 115 km/h. Fines for this offence are up to AUD $3,000 (CDN $2600) for an individual and up to $15,000 for a company. A topography defence was included so that an operator may prove that the vehicle was speeding downhill but with a functional speed limiter.

The NTC is also currently developing the Compliance and Enforcement Bill to develop a national policy introducing chain of responsibility principles and appropriate offences, to ensure that legal liability is imposed on all those in the transport chain who have responsibility for certain tasks where their actions result in an offence.

Another recommendation is to nationally implement a three strikes policy, such as was initially approved by the Australian Transport Council in 1997, that could record breaches in relation to speed-limited vehicles: a first breach would incur a warning, a second breach would require the operator to demonstrate that the speed limiter is operating correctly, a third breach would result in a 28-day suspension of registration, and a fourth breach would incur a three month suspension of registration.

“Despite increased focus on speed enforcement generally, the extent of speeding by heavy vehicles on open roads is still an issue and additional measures to improve compliance on these roads should be considered. Correctly functioning speed limiters can ensure speed compliance on open roads and further action in this area is needed,” says the NTC.

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.

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