ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Proponents cheer; critics lament speed limiter passage

TORONTO — Three years of relentless lobbying has paid off for the Ontario Trucking Association. What was once brushed off as a joke in some critics’ circles, is now a reality: Speed limiters set at 105 km/h will be mandatory for all trucks operating in Ontario.

As we reported yesterday, Queen’s Park gave its stamp of approval to Bill 41, making Ontario the first jurisdiction in North America to enact speed limiters. (Quebec, which has a similar law at the ready, will likely be next). An official implementation date has not yet been decided, but the law probably won’t take effect until next year at the earliest.

As the legislation is written, truckers who don’t comply will face fines anywhere from $250 to a maximum of $20,000.

Brian Taylor of Ayr, Ont.-based Liberty Linehaul — who was one of a handful of carrier execs selected to flank OTA President David Bradley at scheduled public hearings in the Legislature last week — agreed that the campaign to make speed limiters a legal requirement has been one of the group’s most successful feats.

“I would think it ranks right up there,” he said in an interview with todaystrucking.com. “I’m actually a bit surprised (the bill) went through as fast as it did. Obviously, it’s precipitated by the price of fuel, but it’s happened in a relatively short time.”

For Taylor, the safety standpoint and watching too many drivers migrate to carriers who “choose to break the law” were his main reasons for championing the plan. But there’s no denying that while those arguments were the OTA’s original talking points in advancing the idea, it’s the environmental angle that eventually scored points with politicians and the public.

Some truckers may leave the industry over mandatory speed limiters, but
eventually the rule will attract more young people, says one fleet owner.

“When you figure out how much fuel it’s going to save and the environmental benefits from that … it’s obviously an easier sell as you know everybody wants to be green,” says Taylor.

With limiters now a done deal, some of the heated opposition from independent drivers and small carriers is expected to die down, predicts Taylor. In fact, as he told the Legislative committee just before the plan was passed, “in one sense the Bill is becoming academic. The fact is that if you don’t have your trucks limited with the way current fuel prices are, you won’t be in business much longer anyway.”

He’d be right. But it also begs the question: if it’s inevitable that truckers who refuse to limit their speed will go belly up, then why the unrelenting campaign by OTA to force speed limiters onto these competitors — thereby saving them from their own incompetence?

Taylor answers this way: “We share an industry. Everybody’s reputation is affected by somebody else not doing the right thing. But the other side of it, economically, is that insurance is about numbers and the frequency and severity of accidents affects all our rates.”

The counter-evidence contradicting the OTA’s safety and environmental-based arguments has been well documented. But Owner-Operators Business Association of Canada (OBAC) Director Joanne Ritchie, the chief opponent of state-enforced speed limiters, believes most MPPs judged the issue from a faulty framework all along. She’s also upset over what she describes as the Bill’s “hasty review and passage.”

“From the outset, Ontario had no intention of carefully considering the issue and reviewing the facts,” she told us. “They rammed the ‘OTA Bill’ through without even waiting for Transport Canada to complete a set of comprehensive studies. And the sham of public hearings makes me angry; welcome to democracy — open to everyone in the same way as the Ritz Hotel.”

Obviously, a majority of MPPs across all political lines supported the plan, but there were a handful of decision makers — including a former Transport Minister — who were skeptical from the start.

Frank Klees (Newmarket-Aurora) suggests that the province rubberstamped the speed limiter law as a way to cover up its lack of funding for roadside enforcement. “We have speed limits already in place,” he says in an interview.

“They should be enforced. For those who don’t, there should be consequences. But I think to add an additional regulatory burden onto business, especially at a time when our economy is already under great stress, is wrong-headed.”

If he was still transport minister, the speed limiter campaign
would have never gotten this far, says MPP Frank Klees

For the most part, he agrees with Ritchie that most politicians only paid attention to one side of the argument.

“I would venture to challenge the average MPP on their level of knowledge on this issue, and I would suggest to you that it will be very shallow,” he says. “I have no question that they bought hook-line-and-sinker the communications that they were fed and that is why, if in fact the legislative process was legitimate, then we would avoid that kind of propagandizing of an issue.”

The former PC Transport Minister hints that OTA may have been considering a speed limiter campaign for a while, but waited for a more sympathetic administration before taking the plan public. “One of the reasons it never did come forward when I was the minister was because of my views on this issue.”

Klees is especially concerned that the limiter rule would isolate Ontario economically. He recommended an amendment that would have exempted U.S. carriers so not to affect Ontario businesses that reply on northbound transport. But it was rejected.

The two-tired provision may have been misguided, as it would have put Ontario truckers at a competitive disadvantage on their own turf. Still, Klees predicts there will be a NAFTA challenge and “quite frankly, I don’t think that the government is on safe ground on that issue either.”

POLITICAL LEVERAGE?

By taking a proactive stance on reducing fuel consumption and traveling at safe speeds, some in the industry believe OTA has bought itself some political capital for other related initiatives, such as incentives for green trucking technology and LCV allowances.

But Jeff Bryan, of Jeff Bryan Transport in Burford, Ont. says each lobbying effort is separate from the other. “This wasn’t a tool that OTA used to buy political power. The OTA did what the members asked (it) to do. And that was to make this happen and they did.”

Eventually, like seatbelts and unleaded gas, truckers will look back on speed limiters and wonder what all the fuss was about, predicts Brian Taylor.

“There’ll be some people who will leave the industry because perhaps they feel there’s been some freedom taken away. But for the most part, I think people will change their habits and get good results from it.”

 

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