SPECIAL REPORT: Court rules speed-limiters are unsafe

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 6/6/2012

Wednesday, June 6, 2012 – An Ontario trial judge ruled in favor of owner-operator Gene Michaud today, setting a precedent that the requirement for speed limiters on heavy trucks violated the trucker’s right to personal safety. The judge also said the law violates the principles of fundamental justice because it does not make the roads safer as the province claimed, in fact, it creates a danger.

Michaud, an OOIDA life member from St. Catharines, Ontario, filed a constitutional challenge last year against the province over the law that requires heavy trucks 1995 and newer to have a working speed limiter set no higher than 105 kilometers per hour, or 65 mph.

OOIDA President Jim Johnston says truckers far and wide have had an interest in this case because of the precedent it could set.

“This is really the reason we took this case on to start with, and funded it, not only because of the impact on our Canadian members, but the even greater impact it could have on our U.S. members, both those who travel in Canada as well as those who may be subject to similar types of rulings in the U.S.,” Johnston said.

“Right now, we’re battling with ATA and other interests that very much want to see speed limiters put on trucks.”

Michaud runs the majority of his miles in the United States. He testified that the speed-limiter law violated his right to security as a person under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms because his vehicle speed was capped below the flow of traffic in many jurisdictions. The trucker recalled numerous incidents in which he felt “bound and unsafe” during certain traffic situations.

“We argued that the security of the person, in this case commercial driver Michaud, was threatened because of the speed limiter,” Michaud’s attorney, David Crocker of the Toronto firm Davis LLP, told Land Line Magazine.

Testimony included an affidavit on behalf of Michaud from retired assistant administrator Julie Cirillo of the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. In the affidavit, Cirillo cited research showing that uniform speeds are safer than when vehicles travel at different speeds. A forced speed differential, then, created an unsafe condition.

Justice of the Peace Brett A. Kelly of the Ontario Court of Justice, Provincial Offences Division, agreed with those points.

“His ability to have full care and control of all aspects of the vehicle and therefore safety is impaired as opposed to improved, and the situations described by Mr. Michaud – while they may be at times examples of poor driver practice – they are directly and indirectly the result of the regulation,” Kelly wrote. “Mr. Michaud has reason to be concerned for his security of person as he is being placed in a dangerous situation.”

Additionally, Kelly said the speed-limiter law violates the principles of fundamental justice because it is arbitrary and does not do what the province said it would do in making roadways safer.

Kelly does not have the power to strike down the law. If and when the province of Ontario appeals the case, a superior court does possess jurisdiction to strike down a bad law.

Johnston said the judge made the right call in saying the provincial law does not accomplish what the province said it would.

“He definitely ruled that it was arbitrary. Down here we call it ‘arbitrary and capricious,’ that there was no basis for it, and that there was also no evidence to show that this change has any effect whatsoever on safety,” Johnston said.

The province of Ontario has a 30-day window to file an appeal in the case.

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