Canadian provinces are a ‘patchwork quilt’ on speed limiters

| Friday, May 23, 2008

At least two Canadian provinces that depend highly on trucking will not be requiring speed limiters on heavy trucks any time soon. Transportation officials in Alberta and Saskatchewan say they will not pursue such mandates and the jury is still out in several more of Canada’s 10 provinces.

The topic of speed limiters is rife with controversy. Citing safety and fuel economy, lawmakers in Ontario continue to pursue legislation to cap truck speeds at 105 km/h, or 65 mph. The top road speed can be manipulated through the programming of truck computers known as electronic control modules, or ECMs.

Critics, including truck drivers, are skeptical of the safety claims, pointing out that speed limiters on trucks will create a dangerous and unnecessary speed differential. Although slower trucks may use less fuel, the acceleration and deceleration of vehicles around them could negate the savings in fuel and emissions.

Quebec recently put a law on its books to do the same as Ontario, but lawmakers there are waiting to enforce the measure until the rest of Canada enacts similar legislation. Some trucking officials think Quebec is only waiting on Ontario to act before enforcement begins.

Alberta and Saskatchewan are demonstrating that the provinces are exercising their jurisdictional power over transportation issues and regulations. Very few transportation issues come under federal jurisdiction in Canada.

Alberta Minister of Transportation Luke Ouellette recently told the Alberta Motor Transport Association he would not be pursuing a mandate for speed limiters.

Land Line recently confirmed that Saskatchewan’s minister of highways and infrastructure, Wayne Elhard, is in no hurry, either.

“The Ministry supports self-limitation of operating speeds on trucks but is not prepared at this time to mandate the maximum operating speed for trucks at 105 km/h as the incremental benefits of mandatory speed limitation in terms of either crash reduction or lives saved are questionable,” Elhard stated via e-mail.

An informal poll of the provincial transportation ministries by Land Line revealed where they stand – or don’t stand – on the issue of computer-controlled truck speeds. It must be noted that the posted speed limits on most provincial or major highways are 90 km/h, 100 km/h or 110 km/h, which convert to 55 mph, 65 mph or 68 mph respectively.

The maritime provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have a posted 110 km/h limit on four-lane highways.

Those provinces and others, including British Columbia in the west, where the posted speed limit also reaches 110 km/h on major routes, are waiting on the results of a federally commissioned study by Transport Canada on the implications of speed limiters on highway safety and the environment.

“We’ve been working with Transport Canada on this issue to understand the implications of the device given that commercial trucks are traveling across provincial boundaries all the time,” said Jeff Knight, spokesman for British Columbia Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon.

Manitoba is also waiting on the Transport Canada study, spokesman Colin Lemione said.

The Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Ron Lemieux believes Canada should be more unified in its speed regulations, his spokesman said. Lemieux calls the differing speed-limiter positions across Canada a “patchwork quilt.”

Besides, Manitoba is in the process of increasing speed limits from 100 km/h on major highways to 110 km/h.

“This should be in place by the end of the year,” Lemione said.

Officials in British Columbia are also studying whether to increase the maximum posted speed from 110 km/h to 120 km/h, or about 75 mph, on some highways.

A mandate for speed limiters in British Columbia, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick would put truck traffic below the posted speed limit and considerably below the flow of traffic.

In the small province of Prince Edward Island on the east coast, where there are no divided highways and the top speed limit is 90 km/h, the speed-limiter discussion is a non-issue.

“We wouldn’t expect truck drivers to drive faster than that anyway, because that’s the law,” Andrew Sprague, spokesman for Transportation and Public Works Minister Ron MacKinley,
told Land Line.

Even though it’s a “non-issue,” MacKinley himself has an opinion on it.

“They’re doing this to limit the use of fuel,” MacKinley told Land Line. “But what do you get if you have a convoy of trucks? That’s where there’s a safety issue.”

In Ontario and Quebec, where speed limiters are very much the issue, truckers have been calling lawmakers to voice their opinions. The Ontario Legislature’s Standing Committee on Justice Policy is preparing to schedule public hearings on the legislation known as Bill 41, introduced in March by Transportation Minister James Bradley.

In Ontario, officials say it’s an issue of flow of traffic. The posted speed limit, even on the 400-series highways, is 100 km/h. On Highway 401, the flow of traffic is sometimes 120 km/h or higher. That’s 75 mph and it includes passenger vehicles and heavy trucks.

Nova Scotia is among those provinces waiting on Transport Canada to finish its study. No surprise then, that Steve E. Smith, communications director for the Nova Scotia Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, told Land Line that the ministry has yet to hear from small-business truckers about speed limiters.

“We always consider input from local associations in a situation like this but I’m not aware of any approaches, pro or con, from local truckers,” Smith said.

The Ministry of Transportation and Works in Newfoundland, on Canada’s east coast, does not have jurisdiction over the speed-limiter issue on trucks. That duty falls to the Ministry of Government Services. A spokesperson for that ministry had not returned calls as of press time.

– By David Tanner, staff writer
david_tanner@landlinemag.com

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