Keeping her word
Barbara Michaud carries the torch in case against Ontario speed limiters

By David Tanner, associate editor

Barbara Michaud used to look forward to vacation time so she could hop in the truck with her husband Gene and see the countryside. Together for 25 years and married for 19, they logged a lot of miles and saw it all.

When Gene got sick, he asked Barbara to carry on something near and dear to his heart, and Barbara agreed.

“I was behind him 100 percent in everything he did,” Barbara said.  “I know why he was doing it, and it was one of his wishes, and I said I’d do what I can. I’m a fighter also, and I don’t want to let him down and I don’t want to let the public down.”

Gene Michaud, an OOIDA member from St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada, lost his battle with cancer on July 21, 2013. He was 59.

The legacy he left with Barbara was to continue the fight against an Ontario law that requires heavy trucks to be equipped with speed limiters.

The court in Gene’s challenge against the law agreed to allow Barbara to carry on the case. Barbara appeared in provincial appeals court on Sept. 17, four days before she hosted a celebration of Gene’s life in St. Catharines.

“I don’t agree with the speed limiter rule, either,” she said. “It’s about safety for everybody, your family on the road and mine.”

Gene, who ran the majority of his miles in the U.S., believed uniform speed was the safest speed on the highways and that moving slower than the flow of traffic created a hazard to himself as well as other vehicle operators on the highways. That’s why he pursued the court challenge, which has been backed by the U.S.-based Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

On June 19, 2009, while undergoing a routine truck inspection in Ontario, Gene received a citation for not having a working speed limiter set at or below the maximum speed of 105 kilometers per hour (65 mph) prescribed in the law that had just recently come into effect.

Gene’s truck had a speed limiter, but he purposely set it at 68 mph because he believed he needed every inch of wiggle room against faster U.S. trucks.

“When he went into the U.S., and his truck was limited, he was a danger to those truckers in the U.S., because some states are 80, 75 miles an hour,” Barbara said. “They used to tell him to go home. They’d come up on him so quick, he was afraid that he was going to be rear-ended and kill the other driver behind him or be killed.” In the truck stops, they sometimes made headway in explaining Ontario’s law to the other truckers, but sometimes their effort was futile.

Nearly three years went by.

Gene was sick but had been undergoing chemotherapy. He completed his initial round of treatment on June 6, 2012, a day that had additional significance for the family.

June 6 was also the day Ontario Justice of the Peace Brett Kelly ruled that Gene Michaud’s ability to have full control of his vehicle was “impaired as opposed to improved” because of the speed limiter and that the limiter violated his right to personal safety as guaranteed in the Canadian Charter.

As expected, the province appealed. Attorneys presented a study commissioned by the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration that touts a safety benefit for speed limiters.

But Gene’s attorney David Crocker, who now represents Barbara, told Land Line earlier this year that his client was not fazed by the U.S. study for a number of reasons, one of which was that a previous draft of the same study did not show a safety benefit.

The appellate judge will take some time before ruling. Barbara is taking things day by day.

“(Gene) said, ‘I’ve made my point, and it was a good point,’” Barbara said. “He knows he made a mark. I know that he wanted it continued.” LL