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Is there a need for speed?

The Ontario Trucking Association wants to eliminate speeding trucks in North America. And they think speed limiters - a built-in electronic microchip that allows an engine's top speed to be preset - i...

The Ontario Trucking Association wants to eliminate speeding trucks in North America. And they think speed limiters – a built-in electronic microchip that allows an engine’s top speed to be preset – is the best way to do it. It’s a controversial position that has captured the attention of carriers, legislators, shippers, drivers and safety experts alike.

Will the OTA’s position improve highway safety and the public’s view of the industry? Will owner/operators and smaller carriers support it or see it as a “big-fleet agenda” they want no part of? Will other provinces jump onboard or would Ontario become a speed limiting island in the sea of North American trucking? When it comes to safety, should speed even be the issue? The questions are as varied as the OTA’s proposal is bold.

To get an accurate sense of the debate – its salient points, points of contention and direction – we spoke to a broad spectrum of industry stakeholders. Their comments indicate the debate is far from over.

“We are of the strong view that mandatory speed limitation for trucks is overdue,” says OTA chair Scott Smith. “The technology already exists on current electronic engines. It just needs to be turned on. We’ve got the ability, why not use it?”

The bold initiative comes after five board members made a trip in early summer to Britain, France, Belgium and Germany. They studied lane discipline among European drivers and the effect of speed limited trucks on traffic.

“The use of mandatory speed limiters works. A speeding truck would stick out like a sore thumb in Europe,” says Dan Einwechter, CEO of Challenger Motor Freight of Cambridge, Ont., one of the OTA members who made the trip.

“Perhaps if we had better enforcement we wouldn’t need speed limiters,” adds OTA president and CEO David Bradley in an interview with Motortruck. “Perhaps we’re ahead of the curve. It works over there (Europe) and that’s what’s important to us.”

Currently, speed limiters are not mandatory in any North American jurisdiction, while Europe has been using the technology for some time. European truck speeds are limited to 90 kph.

Engine-governing devices have been around the trucking industry for decades, and many North American companies do limit their drivers’ speeds electronically. But Bradley is concerned about the ones that don’t.

“The vast majority of carriers are already doing this (speed limiting),” he says. “Then there are those, who for whatever reason, are not participating – those that cut rates by cutting corners. Our carriers are motivated by competitiveness. They want everyone to play by the same rules. It has reached the point where our board members thought things were not improving.”

But not everyone is in favour of changing the status quo. At least one safety and compliance officer thought that the current system of enforcement and penalties is sufficient. He also implied that enforcing the speed limit on owner/operators would alienate many of them.

Regardless, Bradley suggests that there is wide support for this initiative. “I can tell you that a survey showed support of 92% of our members for speed limiters on all trucks,” he says.

But the OTA has bitten off a lot to chew here. There are some 60 jurisdictions in North America; some states and provinces have varying and higher truck speed limits. Getting consensus on mandatory use of speed limiters appears to be a Herculean task.

OTA chair Smith acknowledges that the thrust of this policy may have to begin in Ontario: “If there is resistance to a country or continent-wide approach, we are prepared to urge the Ontario government to ensure that at least all the trucks that operate into, out of and within this province are speed limited.”

So over this past summer, the OTA began ironing out the specific policy details by holding meetings with key players and the public.

“We’ve put together a blue ribbon panel of 17 carriers who have been making contributions,” says Bradley. “We have done public opinion surveys, driver opinions and focus groups, and had these surveys available on the Web.”

The consultations have now concluded and we wait for the OTA to report in early October. But Joanne Ritchie, executive director of the Owner-Operators Business Association of Canada (OBAC), thinks that the OTA’s process didn’t reach far enough. “David’s Blue Ribbon Panel hasn’t been around yet, asking for OBAC’s opinion or advice,” she says.

Ritchie also said her members are worried about a dual standard – if the OTA should decide a lower threshold for trucks. “(There)… is the safety issue a dual speed limit raises, e.g. trucks lined up in the right lane, moving slower than the speeding four-wheelers who are dodging and weaving among the trucks and slower cars, trying to get by.”

Ritchie’s point is probably moot since, according to Mark Seymour, CEO and president of Kriska Transportation (one of the members who traveled to Europe), the OTA will likely reject the 90 kph ceiling for trucks.

“90 kph works in Europe, but it’s safe to say it’s not going to work here,” says Seymour from his office in Prescott, Ont.

Although an initiative of this nature is bound to cause controversy, Seymour contends it is the right thing to do for a myriad of reasons. “To do nothing would suggest it’s not a problem,” he says. “It’s important for the OTA to take a leadership position. The technology exists and the financial and safety benefits are proven.”

But not all industry associations necessarily consider speeding trucks a priority. “Speeding trucks are a problem for everyone but I’m not sure how big a problem,” says Paul Landry, president of the BC Trucking Association. “My perception is that a lot of crashes are poor judgement – guys going into corners at 80 kph when they should be doing 60.”

Bruce Richards president of the Private Motor Truck Council points out the short fallings of speed limiters. “If you do govern them at 100 how does that help you in reduced speed zones?”

Richards also suggests that we should look at the reasons drivers are speeding. “Is the dispatcher giving me enough time? I believe it’s a huge factor – shipper responsibility – and I haven’t seen a lot of action on that.”

On the other hand, Bob Ballantyne president of the Canadian Industrial Transportation Association takes the position that most shippers are conscientious. “Most shippers want their goods to get to market as quickly as possible but they certainly want them to get there responsibly – as important as speed is reliability.”

However Ballantyne foresees problems if the proposed legislation is too heavy-handed. “Imposing discipline on the trucking industry is so difficult because ownership is so widespread. Personally, I’d like to see speed limiting as something the trucking industry starts as a voluntary initiative – without the bureaucratic overlay.”

But Chris Lavigne, president and CEO of Lavigne Truck Lines of Ottawa, thinks a voluntary approach won’t work. “It’s voluntary now,” he said. “And some of these guys are running wide open.”

Lavigne runs forty tractors that operate between Ontario and Quebec. All of them are Internationals with automatic transmissions and the cruise and top end are both set at 100 kph.

“From a company’s point of view, it’s a no-brainer,” says Lavigne. “We even had someone call in and report one of our drivers doing 120,” he said. “But we knew right away it was a false report because that truck couldn’t go that fast.”

Of course the price of fuel alone should give carriers reason to slow down. Manitoulin Transport has been running its fleet at 90 kph since 1981. Principal owner Doug Smith estimates that there are huge savings in doing so. “We were a pretty small fleet back in ’81, and I think the savings then were $1/2 million.”

Another CEO, Allan N. Robison of Reimer Express Lines in Winnipeg, asserts that his company is 100% behind the OTA initiative. “I don’t care how they do it,” he says. “The industry has an image problem – people in cars have become fearful of trucks.”

Speed Limiters Pros & Cons

In Favour:

* Public safety would be enhanced by the installation of speed limiters. Studies indicate that slowing trucks would lead to a reduction of accidents and, more importantly, a reduction in fatalities.

* The profile of the industry would be elevated. Introducing speed limiters would go a long way to earning the trust of motorists who are nervous around big trucks, anyway. It would show that the industry is being pro-active.

* Significant fuel savings can be achieved by cutting back speed. The issue goes hand in hand with the environment issues because slower speeds mean less depletion of fossil fuels and less production of greenhouse gases.

* There is some suspicion in the industry that a few trucking companies and individuals are gaining an advantage by encouraging their drivers to speed and meet unrealistic appointment times. And some owner/operators will not drive for a speed limited company. Mandatory use of speed limiters would put all carriers on an equal footing.


* This is yet another level of bureaucracy that will be forced on the owner/operator and small fleet owner. Most brokers are fiercely independent business people who own their own trucks because they choose to “run my way.” Not all owner operators are opposed to speed limiters, but many rankle at the thought of their top speed being mandated electronically.

* In good conditions, Canadian drivers usually want to be able to drive as fast as permitted (110 kph on the Coquihalla Highway in BC and 70 mph in some states). Speed limiters may slow them below these legal limits.

* Speed limiters and tighter lane enforcement may cause different kinds of traffic problems. This could result in long line ups in the right lane and trucks taking long distances to get past each other.

* Slowing down might reduce accidents but trucks and cars should be treated equally. Truck drivers are the least likely to speed. Why not seek to limit the top speed of all motor vehicles, instead?

* Speeding truck drivers are a minority and on the periphery on the industry. Instead of legislation perhaps other incentives (licensing rebates, etc.) could be offered to those who voluntarily install speed limiters.

In their Words

Drivers and their representatives respond

Who would argue against eliminating speeding trucks? But rather than looking to government to mandate speed limiters, carriers should be taking the initiative internally to manage truck speed for safety and fuel efficiency – that’s what we’re encouraging our members to do.

As an industry, we should be urging the authorities to focus on enforcement of safe driving practices and public education, not to meddle in the marketplace. As for leveling the playing field, I’m all for it, if that means lowering fuel and truck prices for single truck owners and small fleets; economies of scale enjoyed by the large carriers already give them a competitive advantage.

We’d also support a concerted effort to weed out operators who resort to unprofessional tactics in order to compete – but I’d venture to say those tactics go far beyond driving too fast.

Since the OTA announcement, we’ve been seeking the opinion of drivers and owner/ops at the truck shows this summer, and I’ve been flooded with calls and e-mails. There is absolutely zero support for the idea of government mandating such a practice, even among those whose trucks are already governed by their carriers.

Joanne Ritchie, OBAC

Speed limiters – Bad news!

In the UK, as with the rest of Europe, they’re set at 56mph. Actually it’s 90kms so it’s slightly less. Okay, the fuel consumption guys are happy but the practical result is that you end up with both lanes being blocked as truck 1 does 56.2 mph and truck 2 tries to get past at 56.4. Then there’s the problem of the guys with the big horsepower who get past the lesser horsepower on the hills but are unable to complete the overtaking maneuver once they’re on the way down the other side.

Then there’s the problem of overtaking on an ordinary road; you need a lot more room.

Germany has cured the problem of trucks blocking the Autobahn ( 2 lane) by simply banning trucks from the outside lane between the hours of 0600 and 2200.So you get to sit in a 100 km-long queue, all doing 80km/hr! This idea is catching on across Europe.

Then there’s the problem of the guys who disable the limiter, those who’s DOT doesn’t enforce the thing and those who just couldn’t care less anyway. I think it’s fair to say they’re pretty much hated.

Like I said: Limiters – Bad idea!

Martyn Wardle, a Can-Am West driver in Winnipeg, who recently emigrated from the UK

I have to tell you that I am in sympathy with the Ontario Trucking Association’s desire to have the speed of trucks limited in North America, or at least in Ontario. As someone who drove the 401 from Napanee to Toronto and back every week for 20 years, I can tell you that I saw enough speeding – I mean REALLY speeding; semis zooming along at 130 or 140 or more much to the detriment and terror of normal traffic. Most of them, I have to say, were from Quebec, but Ontario trucks did their share of trying to blow cars off the road and insane tail-gating. It was worst in the winter, of course, and it seemed that truckers did not have any clue to how blinded the cars were when the trucks sped by in snow, slush, or rain.

Richard Perry, former Ontario driver

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