Differential Speed Limits for Trucks: A Virginia Personal Injury Lawyer’s Perspective | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

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During 2018, speed played some role in 446 of the serious crashes involving tractor-trailers and other large trucks in Virginia. Exceeding the posted speed limit was not the sole cause of these collisions, as police and state troopers also recorded instances of truck drivers following too closely, failing to yield right of way, avoiding other vehicles and running traffic controls. Driving too fast could lead a truck driver to swerve out their lane or blow through a red light.


Slowing down 18-wheelers and other long, heavy trucks makes intuitive sense as a method of reducing the number and severity of speed-related crashes. Following that logic, Virginia imposed a differential speed limit for vehicles over 10,000 pounds during the 1980s and into the mid-1990s. Throughout that period, trucks were restricted to 55 mph on interstate highways while operating in the commonwealth. Cars could travel at 65 mph on I-64, I-81, I-95 and other interstates.

Arkansas, California, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, and Washington also put differential speed limits in place at various times. Some of those states only made truck drivers slow down on two-lane rural routes, while others set differential speed limits on both interstates and state highways.

So, so differential speed limits work? That is, do fewer crashes happen, and do fewer people die or go to hospitals with injuries?

No one can be sure. An analysis published by the Federal Highway Administration in 2004 revealed that a reduction in rear-end collisions caused by truck drivers in Virginia was canceled out by a slight increase in rear-end collisions caused by drivers of smaller vehicles. Findings from other states were similarly inconclusive.

What is not in doubt, however, is that driving too fast or too slow creates dangers for everyone on the road. And, certainly, reckless speeding, which is generally defined as going more than 25 mph above the posted speed limit, significantly reduces the amount of time a driver has to respond to changes in traffic flow, stop at lights and adjust to different pavement conditions. And becoming distracted at high speed while behind the wheel of a truck weighing 80,000 pound or more cannot help but set the stage for a fatal crash.

Forcing truck drivers to go slower than everyone else on the road may not reduce injuries and save lives, but ensuring that truck drivers obey speed limits surely will.