Trucker challenges Ontario’s speed-limiter law in court

By David Tanner, associate editor

OOIDA Member Gene Michaud had some heavy hitters in his corner as he prepared for his day in court in January. The Canadian owner-operator, who conducts most of his business in the U.S., is challenging the constitutionality of the Ontario law that requires his truck to have a speed limiter set below the flow of traffic where he routinely runs.

Michaud and his attorney, David Crocker of Davis LLP, filed a statement of facts in the Ontario Court of Justice on Dec. 19, 2011. The document outlines how the speed-limiter law creates unsafe situations on provincial highways and U.S. interstates.

“Instead of encouraging safety and promoting safety, it discourages it and creates situations that are unsafe both for the truckers and for other motorists on the highway,” Crocker told Land Line Magazine.

Ontario’s speed-limiter law took effect in January 2009, requiring heavy trucks 1995 and newer to have a working speed limiter set at a maximum of 105 kilometers per hour, or about 65 mph.

The province enacted the rule on the belief that it would make the roads safer and cut down on greenhouse gas emissions. Crocker’s evidence suggests the law accomplishes neither.

“We believe that the speed-limiter legislation, the provisions of the Highway Traffic Act that require heavy trucks to be speed-limited in Ontario, is counterproductive – that it doesn’t do what the legislators would like it to do,” Crocker said.

Michaud, a native of St. Catharines, Ontario, sought legal counsel after he received a citation during a routine truck inspection on July 19, 2009.

According to the statement of facts, Michaud was on his way to pick up a trailer in Guelph, Ontario, for delivery in Chicago when a flashing sign near Vineland, Ontario, meant he had to pull in and have his truck inspected.

The on-duty inspector checked the speed-limiter setting on Michaud’s 2008 International and found it to be set at 68 mph.

Michaud believes limiting his truck to 65 mph violates his right to operate safely in other provinces and in U.S. states like Texas and Florida where he routinely runs. He says in the statement of facts that he is routinely branded as “another Canadian blocking the road” when he drives in states with posted speed limits above 65 mph.

Michaud is not alone in his concerns.

OOIDA has long held that the safest speed on the highways is a uniform speed, and that a mandate for speed limiters creates an unsafe speed differential among vehicle classes.

Studies, including one by the Mack-Blackwell Rural Transportation Center at the University of Arkansas, have shown the dangers of speed differentials.

Also in the plaintiffs’ corner is Julie Cirillo, a former assistant administrator of the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, who filed an affidavit of support at the request of the plaintiffs and OOIDA.

Cirillo cites studies from her work with the FMCSA where she was chief safety officer.

“It is my opinion that the speed-limiter legislation does not increase safety and, in fact, decreases safety on the highways traveled by those heavy trucks and can cause dangerous situations to arise,” Cirillo stated in the affidavit.

Other Canadian truckers – including OOIDA members Scott Mooney of Fergus, Ontario; Lee Ingratta of Gravenhurst, Ontario; and Don Fraser of Wentworth, Quebec – have all challenged speed-limiter tickets in traffic court. Michaud’s case would set a precedent and help truckers avoid lengthy and expensive appeals launched by the province.

In addition to safety arguments, Michaud is prepared to argue that the Ontario law hinders his business as an owner-operator engaged in interstate and interprovincial commerce. He is also challenging the environmental claims made by the province about greenhouse gas emissions.

At press time, the Ontario Court of Justice was scheduled to hear oral arguments on Jan. 20 and Jan. 23. LL