Going the distance
OOIDA member appeals to high court to overturn Ontario speed-limiter law

By David Tanner, associate editor

A plaintiff backed by OOIDA is asking the highest court in Ontario, Canada, to rule once and for all that a government mandate for speed limiters is unconstitutional.

OOIDA Member Barbara Michaud, wife of the late Gene Michaud, an OOIDA life member and owner-operator from St. Catharines, Ontario, is appealing to the Court of Appeal for Ontario.

The push for a final appeal comes on the heels of a ruling by the Ontario Court of Justice in mid-May that sided with the Ministry of Transportation and its law requiring speed limiters on trucks 1995 and newer to be set at a maximum of 105 kilometers per hour, which is about 65 mph.

Gene Michaud began the court challenge of the law after being dealt a citation in 2009 for having his speed limiter set above the maximum. He argued that the law not only put him at a competitive disadvantage but also created a hazard on the roadways, especially when he traveled to U.S. states that had posted speed limits of 70 mph and higher.

A traffic court justice sided with Michaud in June 2012, saying that speed limiters infringed on the trucker’s right to personal safety under the Canadian Charter of Rights. As expected, the Ministry of Transportation appealed.

Michaud passed away in June 2013 after a battle with cancer, and the courts allowed his wife Barbara to carry on as plaintiff.

In the fall of 2013, the Court of Justice heard the Ministry of Transportation’s appeal and was supposed to render a decision in early 2014. That decision was pushed back until mid-May, when the Court of Justice ruled that the law did not impede Michaud’s right to personal safety.

Now, it’s team Michaud’s turn to appeal to the high court.

“My husband would say, ‘I’m not a speed demon, and I just want to be safe doing my job,’” Barbara Michaud told Land Line in May.

“These trucks come up on you pretty quick when they’re doing 70-75 mph and you’re doing 62,” she said.

Her attorney, David Crocker, says the Court of Justice judge downplayed the safety implications of speed differentials on the highways.

“We said the speed limiter violates the section of the Charter of Rights which requires that legislation protect security of the person. The judge said the evidence we provided hadn’t established that speed limiters jeopardize security of the person,” Crocker said.

“The judge was not impressed with our expert, Julie Cirillo (former assistant administrator of the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration). He wasn’t impressed with Gene Michaud and his view of the significance of speed limiters, and he downplayed the importance of differential in speeds to the importance of slowing down trucks absolutely,” Crocker said.

“He said the evidence fell short of actually describing dangerous situations which Michaud had been in personally. Then he said, because of all of that, we don’t fit into the section of the Charter of Rights that we said had been violated.”

Just as the Association has done since Michaud’s initial challenge, OOIDA is backing the appeal.

Barbara Michaud is adamant that speed limiters continue to present a hazard, and that the public has no idea why traffic backs up around trucks and causes other drivers to take chances around big trucks.

“The judge didn’t care much about the U.S. side of it,” she said. “So he’s not thinking of the free-trade side of it or safety in the U.S. When we go down there, we’re a hazard, and that’s only going to get worse.”

One thing the Court of Justice did do in its May ruling was “stay” the traffic court’s decision that tossed Gene Michaud’s speed-limiter ticket out of court. There’s no longer a ticket, just an appeal that the law is unconstitutional.

Crocker says the appeal will be on the grounds that speed limiters have an impact on the administration of justice.

“The rules require that there be special grounds for this appeal. …

I believe we can establish that,” he said. LL