SPECIAL REPORT: Testimony flows at Ontario speed limiter hearing

| 6/5/2008

Thursday, June 5, 2008 – The controversial issue of government-mandated speed limiters drew heavy hitters and testimony from all corners of the U.S. and Canadian trucking industries for a public hearing today in Toronto, Ontario.

The issue was Bill 41, introduced in the Ontario Legislature by Transportation Minister James Bradley in March. It would require speed limiters on big trucks operating in the province to be set at a maximum setting of 105 km/h, or 65 mph.

Speakers at the Ontario Legislature’s Standing Committee on Justice Policy hearing included owner-operators and their associations, officials from motor carrier associations, business owners, truck manufacturers, safety advocates and insurance groups.

Committee members must consider the oral and written testimony from the hearing and prepare any possible amendments or changes to Bill 41 before deciding whether to send the bill back to the Ontario Legislature for a third and final reading.

The morning session of the hearing featured testimony from the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, presented by OOIDA Board Director Terry Button of Rushville, NY, and OOIDA Foundation Director Tom Weakley.

Button told the legislative committee that OOIDA had “retained legal counsel” to research whether speed limiters in one jurisdiction would violate the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“Passage of Bill 41 in its present form would be a huge blow to not only the small business truckers who have built a business hauling goods in and out of Ontario, but for all of the industries that rely on the service that small business truckers guarantee,” Button said.

Weakley presented findings from an OOIDA Foundation survey on economic and safety issues affecting professional truckers. He said truckers opposed to government-mandated speed limiters are concerned about a lack of passing speed, increased congestion and being rear-ended.

The survey showed that more than 97,200 U.S.-based members of OOIDA do at least some business in Ontario. Of that number, only 7 percent reported having speed limiters set at or below 105 km/h, Weakley said.

The same survey showed that 68,400 of those OOIDA members – approximately 70 percent – would cease doing business in Ontario if speed limiters were made mandatory in that jurisdiction.

“While this will certainly cut down on greenhouse gases and cut fuel consumption, it would be disastrous to the freight industry,” Weakley said.

Officials representing the Ontario Trucking Association, the American Trucking Association and the Canadian Trucking Alliance all said speed limiters would make highways safer, cut fuel consumption, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

OTA President David Bradley first announced in November 2005 that OTA would seek legislation to mandate speed limiters on the basis of safety and the environment.

“This was a position we came to after extensive research and consultation with carriers, drivers, engine and truck manufacturers, enforcement personnel, safety and environmental experts and policy-makers at home and abroad,” the OTA president stated in his testimony.

Bradley took issue with OOIDA’s retention of legal counsel to pursue NAFTA implications of Bill 41.

“There are no NAFTA issues here. There is no discrimination. Trade will not be impaired,” Bradley said.

Prior to Ontario legislation being introduced, the provincial government in Quebec approved a law to mandate speed limiters, but with the condition that officials would wait for the rest of Canada to be on board before enforcing the regulation.

OOIDA, the Owner-Operator Business Association of Canada, and other small-business leaders and groups are challenging the claims made by motor carrier associations.

An ongoing study by researcher Steven Johnson of the University of Arkansas – who was unable to attend the hearing as previously reported – shows speed limiters would increase speed differentials between automobiles and heavy trucks. Johnson’s points about speed differentials and safety have not fallen on deaf ears.

Canadian researcher Barry Prentice, professor of supply chain management with the University of Manitoba, was scheduled to testify Thursday by conference call.

Prentice spoke about speed differentials in a “Land Line Now” interview on XM Satellite Radio in November 2007.

“To the extent that trucks are moving at a slower speed, and other cars are speeding up to pass them and slowing down again, we could actually end up with more fuel being consumed by other vehicles on the road which probably outnumber the trucks eight or more to one,” Prentice said at that time.

Rounding out the morning session of the hearing were representatives of the Insurance Bureau of Canada, Ontario Safety League, Truck Manufacturers Association and a motor carrier named Liberty Linehaul, Inc.

The afternoon session featured testimony from Joanne Ritchie, executive director of the Owner-Operator Business Association of Canada, and OBAC Board Member Jim Park.

OBAC has a long-standing position in opposition to government-mandated speed limiters. The organization’s leaders have stressed the need for better enforcement of existing traffic laws and posted limits to catch speeders.

Dorothy Sanderson, a trucker from Cannington, Ontario, testified about her more than 30 years experience as an owner-operator and what she believes speed limiters will do to competition.

“I can say from experience that speed limiters are merely a ploy by big trucking companies as a way and means of controlling their employees,” Sanderson stated in her testimony. “You must bear in mind that safety is not a factor here but it can be a detriment because of the dual speed-limit issue and the fact that many people see a slow moving semi as a nuisance on the highway.”

Jeff Bryan, president of Jeff Bryan Transport Ltd. presented testimony in the afternoon session as did owner-operator Ray Gompf of Ottawa, Ontario.

Gompf said there’s no quick fix for setting a truck’s road speed and maintaining efficiency.

“It’s not just a matter of changing to the 105 chip; it also requires the engine at a large cost to be reworked to achieve a peak efficiency at the maximum of 105,” Gompf said.

“The differentials have to be changed to match the new output of the engine and the transmission,” Gompf said. “Even the size of the tires may need modification. It’s not the small job the OTA is saying it is.”

– By David Tanner, staff writer