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Georgia trucking safety group says new federal guidelines 'inadequate'

Long-awaited safety standards from the Obama administration that would limit the top speeds of heavy-duty trucks are "pretty inadequate," according to the head of an Atlanta-based truck safety group.

Steve Owings, co-founder of Road Safe America, is unhappy that the Department of Transportation chose to limit a proposal setting the max speed for big-rig trucks only to new-build vehicles. He said many trucks currently on the road already have that capability and should be mandated to use it.

"It's as if the government looked and after discovering that seat belts saves lives required people to wear them only in the future," Owings said in an interview. “Obviously the government should require these big-rigs that have the capability to use it."

At issue is a device that caps max speeds in trucks, buses and heavy duty vehicles. Owings said truck manufacturers have been putting the technology into their vehicles for decades but drivers haven't been required to use them.

The Obama administration's new proposal would require all new heavy duty vehicles to come equipped with the technology and for drivers to use them (set at a speed to be determined at a later date).

U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., had a more optimistic reaction after pushing for the proposal for several years.

“Every day that has passed that this commonsense safety measure has been delayed by bureaucratic processes is one too many," he said in a statement.

Proponents of the regulation said it would help cut down on high-speed and runaway truck accidents (including this one involving a school bus on I-75 in south Georgia) and save more than $1 billion in fuel costs annually.

Not everyone is on board.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, a trade group representing small-business truckers, said the rule would limit trucks' ability to drive with traffic, which could be dangerous, and that truckers sometimes need to speed up to avoid certain obstacles.

“Highways are safest when all vehicles travel at the same relative speed,” said Todd Spencer, a member of the group's board. “This wisdom has always been true and has not ever changed.”

Owings said Georgia is in the top five states that have suffered the most fatalities from crashes involving big-rig trucks and that the Savannah port deepening will lead to even more traffic as freight is moved in and out of the expanded site.

“We really need to get on top of this problem and change course before it gets worse," Owings said.

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About the Author

Tamar Hallerman is The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Washington correspondent, covering Congress, federal agencies and other government activities that impact Georgia.