The nation's highway safety chief says his agency will push for quick action on a regulation requiring electronic speed limiters on big rigs. It may also contact states about speed limits that are higher than commercial truck tires are designed to handle.
The statements Thursday by Mark Rosekind, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, came at a discussion with reporters ahead of his speech at a safety symposium in New York.
Rosekind, who took over the agency in December, was responding to questions about an Associated Press investigation that found most heavy truck tires aren't designed to travel more than 75 mph, yet 14 states now have truck speed limits of 75, 80, and, in part of Texas, even 85 mph. Some of those states raised their limits without consulting the tire industry.
Tire manufacturers and safety advocates say that if tires are driven higher than their speed ratings for prolonged periods, heat can build up and cause them to blow out.
Rosekind said no one has died because of the discrepancy between tire speeds and speed limits, but he wants his agency to move so that doesn't happen.
"You don't wait for somebody to die when you know there's a safety problem there," he said.
Truck tires, he said, aren't even tested by the tire industry for the higher speeds that some trucks are being driven. "So there's another disconnect between what's going on, and now you're sort of in a position of unfortunately again having to retroactively react to figure out 'OK, how do we fix that?'" he said.
Addressing the higher state speed limits was among the options, he said, but he didn't give details on how that might happen.
States set their own speed limits, having been given sole authority to do so by Congress in the mid-1990s.
Rosekind said chief among NHTSA's options is the speed-limiting device requirement that would prevent trucks from going over 75 mph. But the proposed regulation has been stalled for years in a morass of cost analyses and government reviews. Rosekind said Thursday that he'll press to move the requirement along and said it has the support of the American Trucking Associations, a coalition of industry groups.
The discrepancy between truck tires and speed limits was revealed in documents filed in a NHTSA investigation of Michelin truck tire failures that began last October. The agency opened the probe after getting complaints about tire failures. In one case, a truck going more than the 75 mph speed limit on Interstate 10 in Deming, New Mexico, blew a tire and rolled onto its side. No injuries were reported.
The agency closed the investigation after finding that truck owners, not the tires, were at fault because of under-inflation or heavy loads. But the investigator noted that a more likely cause was state speed limits that were higher than the truck tires were designed to travel.
Of the states that now let trucks go 75 mph or more, four allow 80 or higher, mainly on rural freeways — Texas, Utah and Wyoming and South Dakota. Three more states — Missouri, Nevada and Washington — may allow to 75 or higher.