The Texas legislature, in a fit of sheer stupidity (not a word my kids are allowed to say in my house so you know I feel strongly about the issue!) has raised the speed limits at night for tractor trailers in Texas.  (The Texas state senate passed this May 23, 2011 and it is now on its way to the Governor’s desk. You can pray the Governor has the common sense to veto this! (See Transportation Topics, May 30, 2011 p25)) Texas already has one of the highest body counts in the nation for tractor trailer wrecks. According to the DOT, on average over the last 4 years, 410 Texans die each year in heavy truck crashes (stats can be found here).

I have to assume the Texas legislature had this pointed out to them. So what do they do with this knowledge? They raise the speed limit at night. Something that the Texas’ own Commercial Driver’s License Manual makes clear will kill YOU! Specifically the 2008 Texas CDL manual states (and it said this in the 2004 CDL manual as well, the oldest Texas CDL manual I have): 

Driving too fast is a major cause of fatal crashes. You must adjust your speed depending on driving conditions. These include traction, curves, visibility, traffic, and hills. (2008 Texas CDL Manual Chapter 2.6)  

You should always be able to stop within the distance you can see ahead… At night, you can’t see as far with low beams as you can with high beams. When you must use low beams, slowdown. (2008 Texas CDL Manual Chapter 2.6) 

Whenever you double your speed, it takes about four times as much distance to stop and your vehicle will have four times the destructive power if it crashes. High speeds increase stopping distances greatly. By slowing down a little, you can gain a lot in reduced braking distance.  (2008 Texas CDL Manual Chapter 2.6)

Total Stopping Distance.  At 55 mph it will take about six seconds to stop and your vehicle will travel about the distance of a football field. (60 + 60 + 170 = 290 feet). (2008 Texas CDL Manual Chapter 2.6)

At night your headlights will usually be the main source of light for you to see and for others to see you. You can’t see nearly as much with your headlights as you can see in the daytime. With low beams you can see ahead about 250 feet and with high beams about 350-500 feet. You must adjust your speed to keep your stopping distance within your sight distance. This means going slow enough to be able to stop within the range of your headlights. Otherwise, by the time you see a hazard, you will not have time to stop. (2008 Texas CDL Manual Chapter 2.8)

Knowing this, KNOWING THIS, the Texas legislature goes and RAISES the nightime speed limit to 75MPH for tractor trailers! This means even if the truck driver is attentive and has his high beams on he cant stop in time. 

Now I may not be bright compared to folks in the Texas legislature, but if my own book tells me at 55 MPH it takes a tractor trailer 290 feet to stop, and a tractor trailer driver can only see 250 feet at night with his low beams on, we have a problem. By the time a driver can see Something in the road IT IS TOO LATE TO STOP AT 55 MPH, much less 75 MPH. This problem even has a name, it is called "over driving" your headlights. Safety instructors, trucking companies, and truck drivers have known about this for decades. It is so well known it is even in the 2004 Texas CDL Manual!

If you, your children, or your parents have an engine problem or a flat tire at night, and cant get off the road, you are dead in Texas if a truck is behind you.

I have to think the Texas legislature loves truck companies lots more than us little folks in little cars.

Understand that the truck driver’s are the fall guys here. If they are properly trained they will drive slower than the speed limit, within the distance they can see at night with their headlights. Truck companies generally don’t train truck drivers that way because the faster the loads get delivered the more money a truck company makes. The victims are really you, me, and the truck drivers. I believe most truck drivers would follow the safety rules if they were properly trained.

The vehicle death rate in Texas from heavy trucks, which has been falling in recent years, is about to explode! Keep in mind that NAFTA is about to put Mexican trucks, which I don’t believe are nearly as safe (see my prior blogs) as US licensed drivers and trucks, all over Texas as well! The next time you pass a graveyard in Texas make sure you take a moment to thank your Texas Legislators!