Pushing the limits
Ontario's 'new evidence' for appeal doesn't faze trucker in challenge of speed-limiter law

By David Tanner, associate editor

A judge will allow the province of Ontario to present new evidence about speed limiters in appeals court later this year, but that doesn’t faze the trucker who is challenging the constitutionality of the speed-limiter law.

Owner-operator Gene Michaud won his first go-around in court last year when a traffic judge ruled the law violated his constitutional rights. The province’s appeal of Justice Brett Kelley’s June 2012 ruling is scheduled for Sept. 17 in Provincial Court in St. Catharines, Ontario.

The appeal judge has agreed to review a March 2012 study on speed limiters prepared for the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, in part because the study was published between the closing of oral arguments in January 2012 and the ruling in June.

Michaud’s team is not intimidated by the FMCSA study, which makes a claim that speed limiters show a “benefit” to highway safety. In fact, as Michaud’s attorney David Crocker points out, not everyone agrees with the “benefit” findings – even some of the people closest to the study.

“We don’t put much value in this new work, and are putting in material of our own to point out the problems with the methodology, and the difficulty with the conclusions,” Crocker told Land Line in mid-January after the appeals court date was announced.

The OOIDA Foundation refutes the finding of benefit with speed limiters, pointing out that early drafts of the study dating back to 2010 showed “no benefit.”

Even one of the researchers who worked on the study, Steven Johnson of the University of Arkansas, wrote a rebuttal of the findings after learning the initial conclusion had been changed to show benefit in the final version.

Michaud, an OOIDA life member from St. Catharines, was charged in 2009 with violating the provincial law that requires heavy trucks 1995 and newer to be equipped with a working speed limiter set no higher than 105 kilometers per hour, which is about 65 mph.

Michaud fought back, in part because the majority of miles he drives are in U.S. states in which the posted speed limit is higher than 65 mph and the flow of traffic is often greater than 70. He says being forced to driver slower than the flow of traffic puts him at risk because it intensifies the traffic interactions around him.

“We challenged the legislation on the basis that it violated Chapter 7 of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” Crocker said. “We are arguing that a speed limiter puts a driver in a dangerous position.”

Michaud has also claimed in his challenge that his ability to compete with non-limited trucks outside of Ontario puts him at a competitive disadvantage.

On a personal level, Michaud has had another fight besides the one against the province. Since his 2009 ticket, the trucker has suffered from esophageal cancer and was sidelined from trucking.

Crocker reports that after treatments with radiation and chemotherapy, Michaud has recently begun to drive truck again. LL