Societal benefits of speed limiters outweigh trucker safety, Canadian court rules

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Updated Sep 5, 2015
Toronto, OntarioToronto, Ontario

A Canadian appellate court ruled this week that the Ontario province’s 2009-implemented truck speed limiter law will remain in effect, despite the court’s majority opinion that the devices could endanger truck operators.

Ontario’s Court of Appeals issued its ruling Monday, Aug. 31, in the 2009-originated lawsuit brought by Canadian trucker Gene Michaud. Michaud, who has passed away since the lawsuit was brought, was required by Ontario law to equip his truck with a speed limiter that governed his truck’s speed to 105 kmh (65 mph). He set it to 109.4 kmh (68 mph), however, and was issued a citation, spurring the court battle.

The judges in the case, which is referred to in Monday’s ruling as a “test case for the trucking industry,” ruled that though speed limiters in “some situations…[leave drivers] in physical danger,” both court precedent and the broader societal benefits of the rule outweigh the endangerment to truck operators.

Trucker interests in the case argue that limiting truck speeds to lower than that of cars creates an unsafe speed differential and limits operators’ ability to perform sometimes necessary evasive maneuvers. 

Intended benefits of Ontario’s speed limiter rule, according to court documents, include lowering emissions of greenhouse gases, reducing the severity of collisions and preventing crashes. These “purposes…are pressing and substantial,” Judge P. Lauwers writes in his opinion, adding that the rule “minimally impairs…the right to security of the person of truck drivers.”

Lauwers adds in the majority ruling, “The public benefits associated with improved highway safety exceed the detrimental effects on the truck drivers.” 

The ruling overturns prior court rulings that tossed the case, due to limiters’ ability to put truckers’ in dangerous situations.

Lauwers, however, also cites court precedent in his opinion, saying prior rulings note that Canada’s “right to the security of a person does not protect the individual operating in the highly regulated context of commercial trucking for profit from the ordinary stress and anxieties that a reasonable person would suffer as a result of government regulation of that industry.”

Doing so, Lauwers wrote, would cause “countless government initiatives [to be] challenged…and, in the process, [trivialize] what it means for a right to be constitutionally protected.”

U.S. regulators currently have a proposed rule in the works to mandate use of speed limiters, too. The proposal is expected to be published this year, when a public comment period will be held. The rule could take effect as early as 2017, depending on how swiftly the DOT can clear the rule and barring delays with challenges.

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