Most trucks operating in Ontario and Quebec have had to mechanically govern their speeds at 105 km/h since 2008, but proposals for similar legislation in B.C. and the U.S. bring back memories of the controversy that surrounded the policy at the time.
Then, the Ontario and Quebec trucking associations lobbied for the legislation, and faced fierce pushback from many owner-operators, small fleets, and the associations that represented them. Concerns were raised about so-called “elephant races” — two trucks traveling side by side at roughly the same speed, while trying to complete a pass — and safety issues related to an inability to accelerate out of dangerous situations.
But when asked recently about speed limiter enforcement, an Ontario Ministry of Transportation spokesman credited the policy for contributing to a 34% reduction in fatalities involving large trucks since the mandate took effect.
Enforcement of speed limiter legislation in Ontario, however, looks different today than it did in 2008. Then, enforcement officers were equipped with an EzTrac device that plugged into the truck’s engine ECM to determine whether or not the top speed limit was set to 105 km/h. The use of that device was discontinued in 2009 “due to incompatibility with certain engine models,” an MTO spokesman said on background.
Today, Ontario enforcement officers rely solely on the “deeming provision,” which allows them to penalize drivers under Sec. 68.1 (1) of the Highway Traffic Act for not having a functioning speed limiter if they’re captured traveling 115 km/h or more.
Not surprisingly, the number of infractions has fallen since the EzTrac device was discontinued, from 1,173 in 2010 to just 36 so far this year. There’s little evidence, however, that speed limiter legislation had any of the feared impacts on truck safety.
Some of those same concerns, nonetheless, persist in the U.S. where the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) – a powerful lobby group representing small business truckers, which also actively campaigned against the Ontario legislation – continues to dig in its heels in opposition to such laws.
OOIDA, responding to an advance notice of supplemental proposed rulemaking from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), has voiced concerns about speed differentials in particular.
“Studies and research have already proven what we were all taught long ago in driver’s ed classes, that traffic is safest when vehicles all travel at the same relative speed,” OOIDA president Todd Spencer said last year. “Limiting trucks to speeds below the flow of traffic increases interactions between vehicles, which can lead to more crashes.”
The organization also points out most crashes involving commercial trucks occur in areas where speed limits are below 55 mph (88 km/h), mitigating the impact of a potential mandate. OOIDA received an ally this May when Congressman Josh Brecheen introduced the Deregulating Restrictions on Interstate Vehicles and Eighteen-Wheelers (DRIVE) Act (HR 3039). The bill would prevent FMCSA from mandating speed limiters on heavy trucks.
“I know from experience driving a semi while hauling equipment, and years spent hauling livestock, that the flow of traffic set by state law is critical for safety instead of an arbitrary one-size-fits-all speed limit imposed by some bureaucrat sitting at his desk in Washington, D.C.,” the congressman said. “This rule will add one more needless burden and Congress must stop it. For example, if a rancher is transporting cattle in a trailer across state lines, under this rule, the federal government would require a speed limiter device when above 26,000 lb. Out-of-control bureaucrats are trying to impose ridiculous regulations on Americans who are trying to make ends meet.”
The National Association of Small Trucking Companies (NASTC) also endorsed the DRIVE Act.
“Mandating speed limiters on commercial vehicles would increase speed differentials between cars and trucks, increase traffic density, and increase impatience and risky driving by those behind a plodding truck,” said David Owen, NASTC president.
For its part, the American Trucking Associations (ATA) supports speed limiter legislation set at 70 mph (112 km/h) for trucks equipped with automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control, and at 65 mph (104 km/h) for trucks without such technologies.
“To be clear: a US DOT rule on speed limiters is coming. ATA will again be at the table, steering an outcome with a data-driven policy, not baseless rhetoric,” the association wrote in a recent blog that took aim at opponents of speed limiter legislation.
“We continue to fight efforts by anti-truck groups to pursue a speed-limiter rule setting speeds in the low 60s. Anti-truck advocates pushed to include that in the recently enacted Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and ATA fought successfully to keep those provisions out of the final bill.”
B.C. Bill 23
For its part, B.C. announced plans to mandate speed limiters as part of Bill 23, tabled in early April.
“We are committed to improving the safety for all road users in B.C. while also creating a cleaner, future-ready transportation network on our roads,” a B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure spokesperson told TruckNews.com at the time. “Speed limiter equipment in heavy-duty commercial vehicles has been shown to dramatically reduce speed-related crashes in jurisdictions where their use is required and reduce GHG emissions.”
The B.C. Trucking Association supports the legislation. The province said it will examine legislation in Ontario and Quebec when establishing fines. In Ontario, failure to have a functioning speed limiter can net fines of $250 to $20,000, while it will cost from $350 to $1,050 for the same violation in Quebec.
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