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Ontario court declares speed limiters for trucks unconstitutional

Ontario court declares speed limiters for trucks unconstitutional

Many truckers are celebrating the fact a St. Catharines, Ont., trucker won his case against the speed limiter law on constitutional grounds.

After being charged under the Highway Traffic Act with not having a working speed limiter, Gene Michaud challenged the requirement on commercial vehicles, saying the speed limit of 105 kilometres per hour puts him in danger.

 

Queen’s Park has no place in the cabs of big rigs operating on Ontario highways, a justice of the peace says.

In a surprise decision expected to be appealed, Justice of the Peace Brett Kelly on Wednesday ruled in Welland, Ont., the provincial law requiring large trucks be limited to 105 kilometres an hour is unconstitutional.

The case was brought by transport driver Gene Michaud of St. Catharines, Ont., who argued that the law put his life in danger.

“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,” the justice of the peace stated. “If the goal of this legislation was to increase safety it cannot be done in this fashion.”

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  • An Ontario justice of the peace has ruled that a speed limiter law on trucks violates truckers' rights.zoom

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

The decision is expected to set off a chain of events that will require the transportation ministry to appeal and thus set the stage for a higher court challenge to the law that has been in effect since Jan. 1, 2009.

Michaud, 58, who has driven a tractor-trailer for 38 years, was stopped at the weigh scale in Vineland, Ont., on the Queen Elizabeth Way highway in July 2009 and issued a $490 ticket by a transportation ministry enforcement officer for having his truck's speed limiter set to 109 km/h rather than 105 km/h as the law stipulates.

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“I hope that somebody is going to wake up now in the government and take this law out, strike it down altogether. And maybe it will save a few lives,” Michaud said. “All it does is frustrate car drivers and it causes them to do something silly, like cutting off the big trucks.”

Transportation Minister Bob Chiarelli said Kelly’s decision has been turned over to the Attorney General’s office to review but added that, for now at least, it changes nothing.

“We believe it’s constitutional . . . (and) for us in terms of enforcing the law . . . it’s business as usual,” the minister said, noting that after speed limiters were introduced “we actually saw an immediate 24 per cent drop in fatalities involving trucks.”

There have been 2,996 limiter related charges as of April 30, 2012, a spokesperson for Chiarelli’s office said.

The U.S.-based Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), which helped with Michaud’s legal bill, has been fighting the introduction of speed limiters across North America for years.

“This case ruling is a win for the safety of all highways users,” OOIDA said in a statement on its website Thursday. “Science backs up that highways are safest when all vehicles travel at the same uniform speed, so we agree with the judge that the speed limiter law is arbitrary. Our association has challenged the mandating of speed limiters in both Canada and the United States because it would make highways less safe and hurt trade.”

OOIDA President Jim Johnston said the association took on the case because the precedent is important to owner-operators on both sides of the border.

“This case will impact our Canadian members and also our U.S. members, both those who travel in Canada and those who may be subject to similar types of regulations in the U.S.,” Johnston said.

Ontario Provincial Police Chief Superintendent Don Bell said that, while the provincial force has no empirical evidence to say whether the law has made Ontario roads any safer, there is proof that slower speeds generally save lives.

“Certainly our position is that it is a benefit and contributes to public and road safety,” Bell said.

Toronto lawyer David Crocker, of Davis LLP, who represented Michaud, said he has about six similar cases with respect to the speed limiter law “and I am going to argue in each one of them that Justice of the Peace Kelly’s decision should apply.”

The Ontario Trucking Association, which represents large trucking firms for the most part, has been an active supporter of the speed limiter law and just the day before Kelly handed down his decision put out a press release extolling, in part, the virtues of limiting the speeds on big trucks.

The OTA cited the Ontario Road Safety Annual Report (ORSAR), using 2009 data, and suggested 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.

Critics alleged the Ontario Trucking Association initiated the speed limiter law in part to drive away competition from trucking companies from the U.S. and other provinces, knowing that many would purposely avoid Ontario for that reason.

“The real motivation of big-business proponents of speed limiter mandates is to drive up costs for small-business truckers and hurt their ability to compete,” OOIDA’s Johnston said in a statement.

Joanne Ritchie, executive director of the Owner-Operator’s Business Association of Canada, told the Star that Kelly’s decision was the “breakthrough that we have been waiting for” in an effort to strike down a law, which among other things she says arbitrarily arrived at the 105 km/h limit.

“It’s a bad law all the way around,” Ritchie said

Canada , Traffic Law

Date: 12/19/2013 3:48:12 PM

By: YASA WEB , www.thestar.com
 
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