Indiana’s law to increase speed limits for tractor-trailers faces a tough road

Two bills tabled with the Indiana Legislature aim to increase the speed limit for large trucks on certain state roads and highways, but continued opposition from a group of Hoosier truck drivers is likely to prevent the measures from becoming law .

Five Previous proposals to abolish the lower speed limit for trucks have been tabled in the House since 2017 without success. All were authored by Rep. Mike Aylesworth, R-Hebron, but none ever received a committee hearing.

He submitted it same language in a bill again this yearhoping that it can at least be discussed in the Home Roads and Transport Committee where it has been assigned.

“For those of us who live far from the state capital, we drive on interstates, and it’s always bothered me that Indiana has a split speed limit,” Aylesworth told the Indiana Capital Chronicle. “The trucks can be very annoying as they drive slower than normal traffic. I think to be safe, they should all be consistent.”

Republican Senator Jim Tomes of Wadesville also has create a separate invoice which is similarly trying to increase speed limits for large vehicles such as articulated lorries.

Like Aylesworth’s bill, Tomes’ measure would raise the speed limit for trucks to 70mph on freeways and freeways outside urban areas. Currently, these vehicles are not allowed to go faster than 65 mph.

However, Tomes declined a request from the Indiana Capital Chronicle for comment on the bill.

Increased speed limit would make roads “safer”.

Under current Indiana law, passenger vehicles are allowed to travel at 70 miles per hour, while commercial vehicles (excluding buses) weighing more than 26,000 pounds are subject to the reduced speed limit.

According to a legislator, about 124,000 vehicles that meet this weight criterion are registered in Indiana tax report. The Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) reported in 2018 that more than 414 million tons of truck freight travels through Indiana each year, making it the fifth largest state for commercial freight transportation.

Aylesworth said Indiana’s lower speed limit for trucks creates more traffic — and makes roads less safe.

“I came back from a trip to South Carolina and when we came back through the Carolinas and Tennessee and Kentucky — where the speed limits are all the same — we didn’t have a lot of deadlocks from semifinals,” he said. “We got to southern Indiana and all of a sudden you’re having some issues, for routes, and it’s very annoying.”

Rep. Mike Aylesworth, R-Hebron.

Indiana is one of eight states that mandate a lower speed limit for semi-trucks on rural interstates and highways. according to the Insurance Institute for Road Safety.

Proponents of the increased speed limit for large trucks claim the current split speed is causing congestion for surrounding traffic. They go on to argue that dodging trucks can be dangerous — especially on country roads, which are often reduced to two lanes.

Groups such as the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), a national union representing professional truck drivers, have opposed differential speed limits for heavy trucks “because they reduce safety by reducing the interaction between large trucks and passenger vehicles strengthen”.

Motor Truck Association remains opposed

But Aylesworth said years of reluctance from the Indiana Motor Truck Association (IMTA), which represents the trucking industry in Indiana, has largely kept the bill from even being included in the committee’s schedule.

IMTA President and CEO Gary Langston claims that the group will “continue to support” the current lower speed limit for trucks in Indiana, rather than take action to increase those speeds.

“Opinions vary within the industry, but the majority of our members remain supportive of the 65 MPH speed limit,” Langston told the Indiana Capital Chronicle in a written statement. “As trucks with technologically advanced safety features become more prevalent, an increased speed limit may be more acceptable.”

Still, Aylesworth says his discussions with insurance experts, INDOT and the Indiana State Police show “everybody agrees.”

“There will be no significant change in accident numbers or increased risk to the public,” Aylesworth said. “It’s just very frustrating. With (IMTA) … we have a difference of opinion on this.”

In 2020, 153 people were killed in large-truck accidents in Indiana, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. At least 26 fatal semi-involving accidents in the state have involved speeding.

An Indiana Public Policy Institute report also notes that large truck occupants are almost five times more likely to be injured in accidents when speeding than in the same type of vehicle that is not speeding.

A chance to be heard in the Senate committee?

Aylesworth said he wasn’t sure his bill would get support in the House committee in the 2023 session. Every time he’s told a committee chair about the IMTA pushback, he’s been told he’s going to have trouble moving the bill forward.

However, since Tomes is a senior member of the Senate committee assigned to his bill, it’s possible his proposal is up for debate.

However, if Tomes’ bill makes it out of the Senate, Aylesworth said he was still skeptical about moving through the House.

“I’d love to see that bill come around, but I can tell you where it’s going to go,” Aylesworth said. “If we know how the legislature works, we will hear it when this bill is assigned to my committee as the Farm Bill. But that’s not going to happen.”