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OTA officially endorses plan to mechanically limit truck speeds

TORONTO, Ont. - It's official. The Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) has formally endorsed a controversial policy requiring all trucks operating in the province to activate speed limiters restricting...

TORONTO, Ont. – It’s official. The Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) has formally endorsed a controversial policy requiring all trucks operating in the province to activate speed limiters restricting them to 105 km/h.

The speed limiters already exist on all trucks built within the past 10 years.

OTA president David Bradley made the announcement at a recent press conference in Toronto.

“As a class, truck drivers are the safest of all drivers on our highways and their record speaks for itself,” said Bradley. “They’re also the least likely to be excessively speeding and the least likely to show poor lane discipline. However, our industry shares its workplace with the public and with that comes an added responsibility to continuously improve.”

The policy was drafted by a 13-member Blue Ribbon Panel comprised of executives from Ontario carriers. According to Bradley, the panel conducted extensive research over the past year, including a fact-finding mission to Europe where speed limiters have been mandated for 20 years.

“At the end of the day, the technology worked so we found a way to take that technological solution and have it work in a North American environment,” Bradley said.

If endorsed by the provincial government, the use of mandatory speed limits could become law. It would apply to straight trucks as well as tractor-trailers and affect every truck operating in Ontario, regardless of where they’re plated.

“Ontario is a very important and large market for the trucking industry – we attract carriers from all over North America here and we think they should play by the same rules we do,” said Bradley.

Ultimately, the OTA hopes the policy will be adopted throughout North America and the Canadian Trucking Alliance has already initiated discussions with the provincial associations urging them to follow suit.

“We’re in the process now of going back through the other various provincial trucking associations.

At this point out of seven associations, four have indicated support and three we still need to hear from,” said Bradley. “I’m hopeful and quite optimistic that over the course of the next several months we’ll all be able to move in the same direction.”

The OTA says about 92% of its members are in favor of the proposal. In addition to the obvious safety benefits, Bradley points out the policy makes sense from an economical and environmental perspective. He says that a truck that travels at 120 km/h will consume about 10,500 more litres of diesel fuel than the same truck running at 105 km/h. That equates to a savings of $8,400 per year.

Limiting trucks to 105 km/h could also reduce as much as 140 kilotonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year – a stat that has caught the attention of environmental groups.

According to Bradley, that alone is “perhaps the single most significant measure any industry has put on the table to conserve fuel and help the country meet its commitments under the Kyoto Accord.”

Other benefits include improved tire and brake wear and possibly even extended engine life.

“The higher your RPM, the more life you take out of your truck,” pointed out Rob Hall, truck engine sales manager with Toromont Cat. All engine manufacturers were represented at the press conference and each of them agreed engines will operate more efficiently at 105 km/h and less.

But the mandatory use of speed limiters isn’t without limitations itself. The speed limiters won’t do much to slow a truck down when it’s travelling downhill. And the speed limiters will only keep trucks at or near the speed limit on the 400-series highways, not secondary highways where speed limits are less than 100 km/h.

Then there’s the ability of the driver to tamper with the settings. While the engine manufacturers have made the system as tamper-resistant as possible, they admit a persistent driver may be able to circumvent the system.

Trip times will also be affected, but only slightly according to the OTA. The association claims a trip from Toronto to Vancouver will take two hours longer when running at 105 km/h compared to 110. A run from Toronto to Montreal will take just 15 minutes longer when running five km/h slower, the association says.

In fact, the association insists the only truckers and fleets that will be negatively impacted will be the fringe operators that routinely speed, and the OTA has little sympathy for them.

“Any business that bases its revenues on having to cheat is using the wrong economic model,” said Bradley, adding law abiding truck drivers won’t see a decrease in pay as a result of the policy.

“For our business specifically, there will be very little impact because we’re already speed limited throughout our fleet,” added Scott Smith, president of JD Smith and Sons.

But not everyone is greeting the new policy with open arms. Most notably, drivers themselves and owner/operator groups have been quick to voice their displeasure with the new policy.

“We pay owner/operators by the mile and then we slow their trucks down,” said Jim Johnston, president of the US-based Owner/Operators’ Independent Drivers’ Association (OOIDA).

But while the OTA’s latest policy promises to be a divisive one within the industry, the OTA is moving forward with its plan and hopes to have the provincial government on-board soon.

“Today we’re calling upon the provincial government to endorse what we’re doing and we would like to see legislation introduced at the earliest possible opportunity,” said Bradley. “At this time we don’t have an official response from the provincial government, so we’ll be looking for that first. We intend to try to keep this in the public eye until we succeed. At the same time we’re trying to have this become a country-wide, if not North America-wide effort.”

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