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Speed limited

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

TORONTO, Ont. – It’s official. The Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) has formally endorsed a controversial policy calling for 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 limiters 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 began urging the provincial associations 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 per cent of its members are in favour of the proposal. In addition to the obvious safety benefits, Bradley adds the policy makes sense from an economical and environmental perspective. He points out a truck travelling 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 if kept to speeds of less than 105 km/h.

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.

“Limiters don’t install common sense,” acknowledged Sgt. Cam Woolley of the OPP Traffic Support Unit (who, by the way, supports the new policy). “A truck limited to 105 km/h could still go too fast in a 60 km/h or 80 km/h zone or even in a 100 km/h zone if there’s bad weather.”

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. But Woolley suggested wireless technology could be installed at scales to help combat this problem.

The policy’s critics point out trip times will be lengthened – but only slightly, the OTA counters. 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. “This is more specifically geared towards the fringes of the industry. What we’re saying is there’s no room in our industry for an economic model that needs speeding to make it work.”

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,” Jim Johnston, president of the U.S.-based Owner/Operators’ Independent Drivers’ Association (OOIDA) said as part of a panel discussion at the OTA’s convention.

Later, he further blasted the policy when approached by Truck West.

“I am totally amazed at the arrogance of these people trying to push this outrageous, self-serving farce under the guise of a safety initiative,” he said. “If safety, fuel conservation and reduced maintenance costs are their goal, then they should lead by example. They could limit the speed of their own trucks and gain that advantage for themselves. The problem is they would like to accomplish this without losing competitive advantage and without appropriate changes in driver compensation to correct for any reduced productivity. Their answer is to force this idiotic concept on everyone to eliminate reasonable options. I hope drivers and other companies will recognize this initiative for what it is and let their voices and their actions be heard against this concept and its proponents.”

And Canada’s own O/O group – the Owner-Operators’ Business Association of Canada (OBAC) – has been equally critical of the policy. While OBAC executive director Joanne Ritchie applauds efforts by fleets and O/Os to manage speed, she says mandating speed limiters is not the right approach.

She fears out-of-province trucks will be targeted by inspection officers if the policy becomes law.

“To my mind, that would produce an inequitable enforcement regime, with trucks from outside the province becoming targets and cash cows,” she said. And furthermore, Ritchie suggested U.S. carriers will never agree with the policy and could pull their services out of Ontario altogether.

“Can you imagine the Americans agreeing to this?” she asked. “They get all wound up at the slightest hint of big-brother poking around in their businesses; they’d never accept the idea that some foreign power is trying to control their affairs from beyond their borders. But maybe OTA thinks they’re onto something here. With the Americans boycotting the province, that’s lots of extra freight for Ontario carriers to haul. And we think we’ve got a capacity crunch now!”

Ritchie said while some OTA carriers may feel they’re at a competitive disadvantage compared to fleets that don’t activate governors, “I can’t see how, with a straight face, (Bradley) can ask the Ontario government to intervene in what amounts to a competitive issue between carriers.”

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. “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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