The Implications of 85
Hank Barton is a second generation trucker-philosopher with a penchant for the written word. He enjoys blogging about long haul trucking, safe driving practices and life on the open road. He writes for E-Gears, an online CDL Test authority that specializes in a variety of study guides.
The internet, the mainstream media, the trucking industry and the great state of Texas are all abuzz with the news: in November, Texas State Highway 130 is upping its speed limit to 85. The American Trucking Association is at odds with the Texas Department of Transportation. Texas is at odds with the media. Motorists are at odds with truckers. The current speed limit on 130 is 80 mph, so this entire hubbub is over a 5 mile increase. So what’s the deal?
The deal is this: this whole affair is causing people to actually talk about what speed limits mean to Texas, about how safe our roads really are and about how trucks interact with regular vehicles. This conversation is healthy, and it might just lead to the creation of something more valuable than a higher speed limit.
I don’t think a lot of non-truckers are aware that many trucks have governors installed on them. Most folks think that a truck can go however fast its driver wants it to, or that the truck is an inherently slow beast that can’t climb past 65. My truck doesn’t have a governor installed, but it’s a good bet for big companies that want to save some cash on fuel economy.
In a recent article, The Texas Tribune did its part to make the public more aware of how truckers operate. They quoted Sean McNally of the ATA, who said, “We know it’s common industry practice to [use a governor], particularly as fuel prices continue to rise… A truck going 75 [mph] uses 27 percent more fuel than one going 65.”
Everyone understands rising gas prices, and they can relate to that. I’ve read a lot of comments on these articles, from non-truckers mostly, calling upon automakers to manufacture more aerodynamic trucks. One guy said something akin to “current rigs look like something a little kid made with a Lego set.” I think there’s some truth in that, and that we have room to evolve.
The Tribune also mentioned that, according to TxDOT, several trucks are already taking 130 and the number of vehicles with 3 axles or more on that stretch of road has sown a slight increase since April.
Freedom is a big deal for Texans, and that applies to how fast they drive. In a recent piece for, Jalopnik Patrick George writes, “Here in the Lone Star State, speed limits are generally viewed as guidelines or helpful suggestions rather than laws. Texans have a thing for speed, something I attribute to our wide-open spaces, long stretches of highways, and general love of freedom. Down here, we kind of drive as fast as we want, even if the police and state troopers aren’t cool with that.”
The whole idea behind 130 is that it gives regular folks and truckers a way to bypass the congestion of I-35, which gets especially bad near downtown Austin. Essentially, you pay a toll, get to go faster and avoid the congestion entirely. You can pay a monthly fee for a TxTag, which allows you to use 130 as you please, or you can get a bill in the mail when a camera snaps a photo of you entering the highway. Pay some money and you’re free to go faster (probably 10-15 mph faster, in actuality) and get away from the gridlock.
Quoted in that same Tribune article, SH 130 concession company spokesman said, “I think anyone who’s been on I-35 when it’s uncongested at night will tell you there are plenty of trucks that are willing to drive that fast… We think our facility will give the trucking community good choices considering speed, congestion, topography and access points.”
At least some truckers are willing to go 85, and plenty of regular motorists are, too. The problem is that a lot of motorists are expressing a desire to be “free of trucks” entirely, which is where the conversation needs to go. Having more road options is nice for everyone, but a 5 mph increase doesn’t solve this fundamental communication problem. Some truckers would definitely like to be free of other trucks too—not to mention they’d like to be free of disrespectful civilian vehicles!
In another recent Jalopnik piece, Patrick George writes, “Honestly though, one of the perils of driving on Interstate 35 in Texas is all of the 18-wheeler traffic. They don’t always go as fast as cars do, and some of them aren’t even cool enough to stay out of the passing lane. If the high speed limits on the SH 130 toll road keep the trucks on other highways, I’d be completely fine with that. I’d be more apt to use SH 130 if I didn’t have to dodge 18-wheelers like in some giant slalom course, regardless of the toll.”
Though George makes some reasonable points, other folks with similar opinions are downright hostile. They don’t consider that commercial trucking is the infrastructure of the entire country. The American consumer business model would die without trucks on the highways and interstates. Sure, it’s inconvenient to wait a few minutes while a truck passes another truck, and it’s inconvenient to take off the cruise control for a few seconds to get around a rig that’s doing 20 mph less than you are—but what is that inconvenience compared to having no food in the supermarket? Reality check.
The truth is, truckers act hostile toward regular drivers just the same. They do vindictive, petty things on the road that put people in danger. Regular cars do different vindictive, petty things. It can keep getting worse and folks can keep getting mad, or we can have a real chat about it. It’s up to us, not up to the people that increase the speed limit on a stretch of road less than 50 miles long.
Through conversation, we just need to change the relationship between truckers and normal motorists. We’re not enemies—we both care about getting to our destinations safely. The road will never be an entirely ideal place for either of us, but if we start talking about it then maybe we can make it a less frustrating place for everyone. I don’t want some guy in a sports car to feel like he’s on a slalom run, but I don’t want a trucker with a governor installed to be constantly badgered because their company wants to get better gas mileage, either. The conversation starts here.
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