Truck Speed: All Roads Lead to Rome

by Everybody Loves Alain

A few months ago, I was in a meeting where a fleet manager discussed vehicle speed, fuel economy, and equipment specs. His fleet’s U.S. Safe Stat documented some performance issue, and its vehicles were spending an hour at every roadside inspection station in the U.S.

Obviously, a corrective plan was needed, and (in my opinion) a speed-management program was particularly a priority. This would improve the fleet’s Safe Stat results immediately.

The fleet manager thought long and hard and finally proposed to cut his fleet’s speed back to 75 mph! On top of that, he felt that the fleet could gain fuel savings if he did so. I was dumbfounded. Somebody in our industry honestly believes that a prudent speed management program starts at 75 mph?

Fast-forward a few months. I was in Italy on a driving trip. We have all heard of Germany’s autobahns, but Italy has its own fast highway — the “Autostrada”. This highway system reminded me of parts of the Trans Canada and the 400-series of highways in Southern Ontario. In other words, it’s a beauty.

On such a highway — in the land of Ferrari and Lamborghini — the first thing you notice is the Italians’ penchant for speed. From observation, the average speed for passenger cars on the Autostrada is between 130-160 km/h. And even at those speeds, you can get passed.

You also notice that Italian car drivers appear to have a tough time maintaining their vehicles within their traffic lanes. This complicates things, as Italy is a country of hills, mountains, endless tunnels, and miles of twisting roads snaking their way through the countryside.

Now, picture narrower roadways, both for major highways and backcountry roads. And let’s mix in some commercial trucks! It’s obvious that truck drivers in Italy are true professionals. Given the conditions I’ve mentioned above, you can see that there is little room for error.

On the rear of every Italian commercial truck you’ll see a round metal plate that clearly states the maximum allowable speed for the vehicle: between 80 and 100 km/h. Can you imagine every commercial truck on a highway operating between 80 and 100 km/h, without exception?

These are the maximum speeds at which commercial vehicles are allowed to operate in Italy: Motor coaches — 90 to 100 km/h; straight trucks — 90 to 100 km/h; Heavy trucks and tractor trailer train combinations — 80 to 90 km/h.

Without exception, every commercial vehicle in Italy operates at 100 km/h or less. Simply amazing.

If that’s hard to believe, try this: imagine pulling into a truckstop and finding that every commercial driver in the lot has turned off the engine. I couldn’t find even one idling truck in Italy. This didn’t apply to only commercial trucks. Buses at stopover stations also shut down their engines, and this is standard operating procedure in Italy.

The main factor driving these best practices is, of course, the price of fuel. The cost of diesel in Italy was 1.25 Euros per litre. When you do the math, this translates to $2.12 per litre in Canadian dollars.

Talk about a motivation to conserve! But it’s not only the cost of fuel. High insurance costs and environmental protection are also key concerns.

This doesn’t even begin to take into account the high visibility of road enforcement in Italy, where officers carry submachine guns. I also did not see even one commercial vehicle involved in any kind of an accident. Trucks in Italy all operate in the slow lane, though on very rare occasions I did see drivers look for an appropriate space and pull out to pass slower moving vehicles.

These trucking professionals were operating their vehicles at fixed speeds of 100 km/h or less — alongside all the budding Formula 1 passenger-car drivers — without incident. This convinced me that the implementation of split-vehicle speeds on our own highway system is not only possible, but also the right thing to do for many reasons.

It looks like the Ontario Trucking Association agrees. Upon returning from a European fact-finding mission, president David Bradley announced the OTA would begin lobbying for mandatory speed-limiters on Ontario trucks. If passed, it would make the province the first jurisdiction in North America to legislate speed governors.

We could certainly learn a thing or two from the Old World, and it looks like some of us have.


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