WELLAND, Ont. – An Ontario Justice of the Peace ruled June 6 that the province’s speed limiter law for heavy trucks is unconstitutional, and dismissed a charge against truck driver Gene Michaud.
In an e-mail to clients and allies, lawyer David Crocker said: “We received judgment today in Gene Michaud’s case where we challenged the speed limiter legislation. We won. The court held that the legislation violates Section 7 of the Charter of Rights.”
The ruling was lauded by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), which covered the cost of Michaud’s court challenge. In a press release, president Jim Johnston said the ruling was significant.
“This is really the reason we took this case on to start with, and funded it, not only because of the impact on our Canadian members, but the even greater impact it could have on our US members, both those who travel in Canada as well as those who may be subject to similar types of rulings in the US,” Johnston said. “Right now, we’re battling with ATA and other interests that very much want to see speed limiters put on trucks.”
But David Bradley, head of the Ontario Trucking Association and Canadian Trucking Alliance, which lobbied for the law, saw it differently. Asked by Truck News how concerned he was on a scale of one to 10 that the ruling could result in the law being wiped from the books, Bradley seemed unfazed.
“On a scale of one to 10 my concern is zero,” he said. “There is no precedent value to the case. People challenge tickets every day and sometimes win. It means nothing; the law stands. You’d have to ask MTO whether they intend to appeal or not. I don’t think it makes a difference.”
MTO spokesman Bob Nichols told Truck News it would be up to the Ministry of the Attorney General to decide whether or not to appeal the ruling. He also said the speed limiter law will remain in place with uninterrupted enforcement.
“This case doesn’t change the law, and we’ll continue to enforce the law,” Nichols said.
Crocker, the lawyer who represented Michaud, told the Canadian Press that he feels the Ontario government should withdraw the legislation. He said limiting truck speed to 105 km/h jeopardizes driver safety, rather than enhance it.
Justice of the Peace Brett Kelly bought into Crocker’s argument: “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,” Kelly said in his judgment. “Mr. Michaud needs to be able to take certain precautions in the execution of his job that will take him out of harm’s way and keep him and those around him safe.”
Joanne Ritchie, executive director of the Owner-Operators Business Association of Canada, admitted this one ruling won’t be enough to overturn the law, but she said it was “the breakthrough we’ve been waiting for.”
“It could be the first nail in the coffin of this useless law that does nothing but divert resources away from policies and enforcement that could contribute to road safety,” Ritchie said.
“While this particular victory won’t strike down the law, it’s a move in the right direction. No doubt the province will appeal, wasting more time and money, but at least a superior court will have the benefit of this precedent-setting case to guide its judgment.”
The ruling comes on the heels of a new report indicating Ontario road safety improved in 2009, which the province attributed in part to its speed limiter legislation. The MTO says its inspections indicate a compliance rate of greater than 80%.