Truck News


The gates are open

It wasn't until 1994 that Ontario allowed for the operation of 53' semi-trailers. This had been a long time coming, finally after years of assessment and research by the Roads and Transportation Assoc...

It wasn’t until 1994 that Ontario allowed for the operation of 53′ semi-trailers. This had been a long time coming, finally after years of assessment and research by the Roads and Transportation Association of Canada (RTAC). But as Canadian carriers know, 53’s for the most part are subject to considerable restrictions, for example kingpin setback, rear overhang, no lift axles etc. Similar restrictions are in place in the United States, with one major exception. In Ontario, the tractor wheelbase can not be less that 3.0 or greater than 6.2 meters. All of the restrictions governing 53′ semi trailers are contained in Highway Traffic Act (HTA) Regulation 32/94.

The maximum length of a semi-trailer in the HTA is 48′. In other words, the ability to operate 53 footers is by exception, only if they are in accordance with the restrictions contained in Regulation 32/94. But in the Act, there is an additional exception to the 48′ maximum, in Section 109, that being for “a semi-trailer designed for the carriage of vehicles”. It was this section that was at the heart of a successful court challenge before Provincial Court Justice McGrath in London, Ont. that eases the restrictions on 53′ semi-trailers, at least for now.

A couple of years back we had a notion. The HTA as previously cited, specifies “designed” for the carriage of vehicles as serving to exempt semi-trailers from the 48′ general length restriction. While there are some who suggest that this exemption is aimed at the auto hauling industry, this is not what the Act says.

The lights went on. We inquired of various clients facing overlength charges whether their trailers had carried or could carry motorcycles, forklift trucks, skateboards, lawn tractors, utility trailers, roller blades etc. Between them they carried all of the above, and in some instances carried cars. After all, I doubt many of us have seen a load of Mercedes Benz’s rolling down the road on an open-deck conventional car carrier.

We knew we were right, hanging our hats on the clear language of the Highway Traffic Act, “designed for the carriage of vehicles”. But convincing the lower courts was quite another matter. In one instance I recall, the J.P., Ministry officers, in fact some spectators in the court were snickering at the argument. A conviction was registered, and the notion perpetuated that the exempting section was aimed solely at the auto carriers. Dry van trailers were not meant to be exempted. I think we had only one or two wins in court using this argument. But what we found interesting in those instances was that they were not appealed by the Crown. Our guess was that had they been appealed we were confident the lower court reasoning and decision would have been upheld by a Provincial Court Judge.

It was only a matter of time. We needed the right case, a conviction in lower court where the groundwork ensured an easy-to-read transcript based on the “designed to carry vehicles” argument. We also needed the right client, one facing problems because of their tractor wheelbase, and prepared to take it up the ladder on appeal.

We got the conviction we wanted, and a US carrier client with a large fleet of 53 footers, a strong presence in the Ontario marketplace, and having a number of their tractors with a wheelbase in excess of 6.2 meters.

We wanted a seasoned transportation lawyer for this one, and went with Robert Warren from the firm Weir-Foulds. A key element of his Factum filed with the court centered on the word “designed”. Quite appropriately, he used Black’s Law Dictionary, 6th Edition which defines the word “designed” as including “fit, adapted, prepared, suitable, appropriate”, and went on to point out that this definition does not require “change” or that there be a “specific purpose” as was cited in the J.P.’s decision. The Legislature he went on to note, could have narrowed the term making it more restrictive. They did not and “it is not up to the court to infer such a restrictive definition of design”. The Provincial Court Judge agreed. The lower courts will be bound by this decision.

It opens the gate for now, for 53 footers that for whatever reasons do not meet the restrictions contained in the regulation. Be cautioned though, that this decision could be appealed by the Crown to a higher court and a different decision rendered. Further, a different Provincial Court Judge could also take a different view. My own sense is that neither of these will happen. I can however, envisage a legislative amendment at some point that narrows the definition and exemption.

Print this page

Have your say:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *