Court rejects truckers' bid to go faster on Ontario highways

In a landmark case for Ontario's highways, the province's court of appeal has upheld provincial legislation that prevents big rigs from going faster than 105 kilometres per hour.

Gene Michaud argued being forced to keep a speed limiter on his truck violated his charter rights

An Ontario court judge ruled this week that the province's legislation limiting the speed of transport trucks doesn't violate human rights. (Lee Pitts/CBC)

In a landmark case for Ontario's highways, the provincial court of appeal has upheld provincial legislation that prevents big rigs from going faster than 105 kilometres per hour.

Justice Peter Lauwers ruled on Monday in the case of St. Catharines trucker Gene Michaud. Michaud argued that the law dictating that he keep a speed limiter at 105 on his truck was unsafe and violated his charter rights. The Justice called it a test case for the industry.

Michaud successfully argued his case in 2012, but the province appealed and the decision was overturned in 2014. It made its way to the court of appeal and Monday, Lauwers sided with the legislation.

Michaud, backed by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), wanted the speed limiter legislation struck down. With Monday's decision, the legislation stays, said David Crocker, the Toronto-based lawyer who argued for the OOIDA.

The case attracted widespread attention from truckers, many of whom who think speed limiters are a safety hazard, Crocker said.

"Gene Michaud was a figurehead," he said. "He represented the broadly held view that being limited, the way the speed limiter legislation in Ontario requires, creates a dangerous situation for truckers, and for those interacting on the highway with truckers."

But in his decision, Lauwers agreed that limiters reduce emissions and improve highway safety.

"The purposes of the speed limiter legislation for trucks, being the improvement of highway safety and the reduction of greenhouse gases, are pressing and substantial," he wrote.

The case dates back to 2009, when Michaud pulled into a Vineland inspection station, just outside of Hamilton, Ont. The inspector found that his speed limiter was set at 109.4 kilometres per hour. Michaud said the higher speed gave him room to maneuver in case he needed it for safety reasons. Ministry of Transportation (MTO) officials ticketed him.

Michaud won a Welland court decision in 2012, when Justice of the Peace Brett Kelly ruled that the legislation infringed on a driver's right to security. Michaud took the stand himself, citing several times the limiter had put him in danger. Highway safety expert Julie Cirillo and greenhouse gas expert Michael Lepage also testified. The province called Frank Saccomanno, an expert on truck speed limiters, who said mathematical models show that limiters reduce the frequency and severity of crashes.

The province successfully overturned that decision in a 2013 appeal to the Ontario court of justice. Michaud died in 2013, but his widow Barbara and the OOIDA appealed the case to the Ontario court of appeal.

In an email, MTO spokesperson Ajay Woozageer said the government is pleased with the latest decision. 

"From 2003 to 2012, the number of fatalities in large truck collisions declined 35 per cent despite an increase of 20 percent in the number of large trucks registered in Ontario," Woozageer said.

The OOIDA now has 60 days to appeal the case to the supreme court.


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