Wife of OOIDA member fights on against 'unconstitutional' law

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 9/3/2013

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.

Gene believed the law infringed on his right to personal safety. The court in Gene’s challenge against the law agreed to allow Barbara to carry on the case. She is scheduled to make an appearance in provincial appeals court on Sept. 17, four days before she hosts 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 new law that had just come into effect. The law pertains to all trucks traveling in Ontario, regardless of domicile.

Gene’s truck had a speed limiter, and it was set, but he had it set at 68 mph. He did this on purpose, according to his testimony, because he believed he needed every inch of wiggle room against faster U.S. trucks, especially when he traveled in Texas and other states that have higher speed limits.

“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 Bill of Rights.

“Mr. Michaud has reason to be concerned for his security of person as he is being placed in a dangerous situation,” Kelly stated in the ruling.

The Michauds and OOIDA lauded the ruling, but also expected the province to appeal. That’s precisely what happened, and that appeal will be heard Sept. 17.

Provincial lawyers are set to present the results of a study commissioned by the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration that touts a safety benefit for speed limiters.

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.

Barbara says that if she is asked to speak in court, she will draw upon her experiences of being in the truck with Gene as well as two and-a-half years of her own experience behind the wheel of a transport truck.

“(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.”

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