By David Tanner
Word came down in October that the provinces of Quebec and Ontario would be implementing regulations to make speed limiters mandatory on all heavy trucks starting Jan. 1, 2009.
The news infuriated owner-operator groups that have battled in both provinces on the basis of fair competition and trade.
Officials with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association in the U.S. and the Owner-Operators Business Association of Canada pointed out that provincial Transportation Minister Julie Boulet reneged on a previous pledge to wait on the rest of Canada before implementing a speed-limiter mandate.
“Our members are furious,” said OOIDA Director of Regulatory Affairs Rick Craig.
“Not only is Minister Boulet going back on her word, she is also disregarding the grim implications this decision will have on trade at a time when Canada and the U.S. can least afford it.”
Boulet announced in late October that the Jan. 1, 2009, regulation will require that a working speed limiter be set at a maximum of 105 kilometers per hour, or 65 mph, on all trucks weighing in excess of 26,000 pounds traveling in or through the province, regardless of where they are from.
Less than one year ago, during an article-by-article reading of legislation proposing the speed-limiter mandate in Quebec, Boulet said her province would not implement a mandate until Transport Canada completed its study of the issue and not until all other provinces had agreed to similar mandates.
“I think we need to remind the minister of her promise,” OOIDA and OBAC member Jean Catudal of Yamaska, Quebec, told Land Line Magazine. Catudal attended hearings in November and December of 2007 in Quebec City on behalf of the two owner-operator groups.
It is the large motor carriers that continue pushing for a speed-limiter mandate as part of an overall competitive plan, OOIDA officials said. It’s not about safety or the environment as the big businesses advertised.
“They’re in it for limiting competition and harming the little guy,” Craig said.
OOIDA and OBAC officials cite studies conducted by Stephen Johnson of the University of Arkansas, which state that the safest highways are the ones where traffic moves at a uniform speed.
Transport Canada released its own studies in April and did not convey a glowing evaluation of speed limiters in Canada.
Ontario has been the only province other than Quebec to adopt a mandate.
Officials from Ontario and Quebec worked together during the summer to harmonize on the issue and develop regulations, said Ontario Ministry of Transportation Spokesman Bob Nichols.
“Regulations have not yet been approved, but – subject to approval – will be implemented on Jan. 1, 2009,” Nichols said.
Ontario’s regulation will begin with a six-month education period.
Member of Ontario’s Provincial Parliament Frank Klees, an opponent of speed limiters, stood on the side of OOIDA and OBAC leading up to a vote in June, which approved mandatory speed limiters.
“At a time when businesses, especially independent operators are desperately trying to keep their businesses afloat, we warned this government about the cost to operators and that there would be serious implications, and they ignored that,” Klees told Land Line.
“The warnings we issued months ago are only heightened because of the economy. … My advice to the government is, given the state of the economy, that they suspend implementation and provide some reprieve.”
OOIDA officials said the trucking industry is among the hardest hit by the economic downturn in North America, and that if Ontario and Quebec mandate speed limiters, many U.S. truckers will lose their routes and will not be able to compete in those provinces.
“If Minister Boulet follows through with this announcement, thousands of truckers throughout Canada and the U.S. will effectively be barred from operating in Quebec. That is a serious anti-competitive move that cannot go unchallenged,” Craig said.
“They appear to be deliberately impacting trade. We will not sit idly by and let them put truckers out of business.
OOIDA is prepared to file a Notice of Intent to Submit a Claim to Arbitration for breach of Canada’s obligations under the North American Free Trade Agreement upon implementation of the speed limiter mandate, Craig said.
Canadian trucker and OOIDA member Larry Carlson, an owner-operator from Winnipeg, Manitoba, who is leased to Bison Transport, said truckers already face enough competition without having the government stepping in on behalf of large carriers.
“As far as I’m concerned, instead of worrying about limiting the speed of the vehicles, how about enforcing the speed limits that they already have?” Carlson stated in a comment to Land Line.
OBAC Executive Director Joanne Ritchie agreed, saying the decision to speed-limit trucks should be left to companies and individuals.
“We’ve yet to hear from Quebec on how they plan to enforce the regulation. But if they’re planning to go down the same route as Ontario, I think there will be considerable resistance to opening up our ECMs to the prying eyes of enforcement officials,” Ritchie told Land Line.
The issue of government-mandated speed limiters in Canada began with a lobbying effort in November 2005 by the Ontario Trucking Association of large motor carriers.
In the U.S., large motor carrier associations, including ATA, are promoting similar mandates. LL