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Semi-Trucks, Speeds and Accidents

With Memorial Day around the corner, the summer kick-off holiday brings with it vacations. In Utah, those vacations come in the form of road-trips. That means trucks, campers and minivans will be out on Utah’s roadways in full force. So too will semi trucks. Tractor-trailers are abundant on America’s highways. And recent changes to the speed limits on these roadways have many concerned.

The majority of tractor-trailers and semi-trucks drive at speeds faster than 75 MPH. While these speeds may be within the posted speed limits, their tires are not designed to handle those speeds. Highway officials have been investigating the causes of multiple semi-truck accidents and are finding links between speeds and blowouts and wrecks.

Semi-Trucks And Speed Limit Changes

Over the last decade the speed limits for semi-trucks across the country’s freeways have been bumped up from 65 and 70 MPH to a consistent 75 MPH. Recently, several states west of the Mississippi River have increased their freeway speed limits to 75, 80 and even 85 MPH. In Utah, the top speed on certain stretches of roads does not exceed 80 MPH.

This nation-wide increase in freeways speeds has tire experts and safety advocates concerned that the continually excess of speed will increase heat generated by the tire’s rotation. As a result, rubber can be damaged or compromised which may lead to deadly auto accidents.

The problem has gotten attention as of late, especially with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s recent investigation into determining whether it was truck operators or tires at fault. The results indicated that exceeding speeds of 75 MPH likely led to the 16 cases examined.

Semi-Trucks And Accident Stats

Heavy trucks were involved in over 14,000 fatal crashes between 2009 and 2013. The United States experienced 16,000 deaths as a result of semi-truck related accidents. The NHTSA has concluded that tires and speeds were factors in nearly 200 of those crashes and led to over 220 deaths.

While it is hard to pinpoint the causes of most blowouts, Lee Perry, a member of the Utah House of Representatives and the Utah Highway Patrol says he sees more tire-related accidents in the spring and summer. “When tires get overheated, that’s when tires have the tendency to separate.”

No Changes On The Horizon

No hard regulations are changes are in the forecast and the NHTSA contends the best way to attack the tire/speed problem is speed governors in trucks that prevent them from exceeding 75 MPH. The American Trucking Association says it opposes speeds over 65 MPH, and is working on a petition to require speed-limiting devices to abide by these recommended speeds.

Speed limits continue to be the primary target for reducing the risks of blowout-related accidents. Many in the trucking industry are hesitant to invest in more expense tires as they already spend large sums of money on other truck safety and performance features. Some believe it will take a disaster like Firestone’s failing tires in the 1990s to get semi-truck tires up to higher standards. Until then, semi-trucks will continue to cruise America’s highways at the speed limits they are allowed to, regardless of whether it increases the risk of auto accident or not.