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Speed limiter ruling a huge step backward

A Justice of the Peace who recently ruled that speed limiters on trucks are unconstitutional was sadly mistaken, writes Ian Law.

Published June 18, 2012
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I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read in the Toronto Star on June 7th that Justice of the Peace Brett Kelly ruled in Welland, Ont., “the provincial law requiring large trucks be limited to 105 kilometres an hour is unconstitutional.”

Truck driver Gene Michaud of St. Catharines, Ont., argued that the law put his life in danger. I would like to argue that any trucker driving a big rig at 120 or 130 km/h (and I have seen them go that fast) puts my life and other motorists lives in danger!

Justice of the Peace Kelly declared the speed limiter law violates the Charter that guarantees life, liberty and the security of the person.

In my mind, there is something terribly amiss here.

When we sign on the dotted line for our driver’s licences we agree to play by the rules. We agree to give up some liberties. The Ministry of Transportation sets the rules. We give up the right to travel at speeds deemed unsafe by the experts. Maybe we should now argue in court that speed limits as set out by the MTO are unconstitutional, too?

Kelly stated the “Inability to accelerate or not accelerate fully places a driver in a less than safe situation because we have taken some of the tools required to drive properly away from the driver. If the goal of this legislation was to increase safety it cannot be done in this fashion.”

First and foremost, the speed limiters or governors only set a limit on the top speed of these large trucks. They do not affect the truck’s ability to accelerate. These trucks can still accelerate at the same rate with or without the governor. The judge missed the point on this.

Secondly, these behemoths are not safe travelling at speeds over 110 km/h. There was a reason why these speed limiters were introduced.

There have been too many tragic crashes caused by trucks travelling at too high a speed. When these large vehicles collide with anything, their huge mass and the laws of physics dictate there will be plenty of carnage.

Their size also means there is very little a driver can do at high speeds when things go wrong on the road. They can not swerve in avoidance and they certainly can not stop in a timely fashion as most smaller vehicles can. Until the truck design emerges from the dark ages, they are not safe at speeds over 110 km/h.

With much of our trucking industry being run on a “paid by the load” system, it rewards truck drivers who will drive fast and get as many loads completed per day. That is a recipe for disaster as it encourages speeding. High speeds and large vehicles translate to death and destruction on our roads.

Before I get into trouble I must say there are excellent truck drivers who do put safety first but, unfortunately, there are truck drivers who put safety behind profit and convenience.

I have had truck drivers write to me saying they should be able to run red lights because they can not stop in time. That attitude is totally unsafe. It shows they are driving too fast for conditions (their load and road design in these cases). Do we really want drivers with this attitude dictating how fast they can drive?

The Ontario Trucking Association (OTA), which represents large trucking firms, has been an active supporter of the speed limiter law. Just the day before this ruling the OTA put out a press release supporting the limiting of speeds on big trucks.

Using 2009 data, the OTA cited the Ontario Road Safety Annual Report (ORSAR) suggesting there was a direct line to be drawn between the speed limiter law and the lowest number of road fatalities in the last 68 years.

The release said “the Ministry of Transportation attributed the safety improvement to several initiatives, including Ontario’s speed limiter law which came into effect fully in 2009. That year, Ontario recorded just 564 fatalities — the lowest since 1944 and large truck fatalities, specifically, dropped 24 per cent compared with 2008”.

Maybe Justice of the Peace Brett Kelly should have read Transport Canada’s study, in which it states:

“Speed limiters are generally believed to have had a positive impact on road safety and have contributed to a decrease in accidents involving heavy vehicles. In the U.K., for instance, heavy vehicle accidents have dropped by 26% since speed limiter legislation was enacted in 1992. Other positive benefits from the enactment of speed limiter legislation include lower fuel consumption (from 3–11%), lower maintenance costs (tires, brakes, engine) and reduced insurance premiums, according to an assessment done by the European Commission.”

Motorists are poorly trained in Ontario, there is no arguing that fact. Truckers are not that much better trained and I have heard this from the truckers themselves.

Allowing truckers to drive at speeds they want certainly means many will sacrifice safety for the extra money brought in by driving faster to get paid for that extra load. Trucking companies are known to put extra pressure on truck drivers to get their load to the destination as fast as possible again forcing safety to take a back seat. It wasn’t working in the past allowing truckers to police themselves with respect to how fast they should drive their big rigs.

To me, this ruling is a huge step backward in road safety.

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