Fatal flaw
Speed limiters are not the reason for reduction in highway deaths and injuries in Ontario

By David Tanner, associate editor

At face value, the Ontario government says the introduction of speed limiters on heavy trucks in 2009 had an immediate and significant effect on highway safety. A closer look reveals that the number of fatalities would have been about the same regardless of speed limiters.

The Ministry of Transportation of Ontario says the province saw an immediate 24 percent drop in fatalities involving trucks in 2009 compared with 2008 – and that it was a direct result of the implementation of the speed-limiter law that began Jan. 1, 2009.

The Ontario Trucking Association, representing large-carrier interests, is also quick to point out the 24 percent drop.

The OTA convinced the government to pass the law despite opposition from the small-business trucking community, including U.S.-based OOIDA and the Owner-Operators Business Association of Canada.

What the supporters of speed limiters aren’t saying is that traffic fatalities have been on the decline on a year-over-year basis for more than a decade. In fact, the year before speed limiters went into effect, the province of Ontario saw exactly a 24 percent drop in fatalities from the previous year, according to the Ontario Road Safety Annual Report of 2009.

Overall, the province experienced a 33.6 percent decline in fatalities from 2000 through the end of 2008 despite an 82 percent increase in licensed drivers, according to the report.

In addition, Ontario has ranked first or second in North American road safety for 11 consecutive years.

The OOIDA Foundation, in a special report, draws on the province’s information and on other sources to help explain the reduction in fatalities and whether it had anything to do with speed limiters. The Foundation concludes that speed limiters actually had very little – if anything – to do with the reduction.

Back in 2000, the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators formed a task force and launched a campaign with the express purpose of lowering road fatalities. The campaign included public awareness of numerous road safety issues, and it appeared to serve its purpose. An increase in the use of seat belts, for example, has led to fewer fatalities.

The Ontario government and the OTA also fail to mention the economic downturn, which led to a reduction in miles traveled by trucks and a reduction in roadway fatalities in 2008 and 2009.

The OOIDA Foundation also says the type of crash matters when studying the effect of speed limiters.  

The number of crashes involving trucks that were speeding compared to the posted speed limit was minor – about 2,300 – compared with crashes in which a truck was “traveling too fast for conditions” – about 17,300. In the latter statistic, a speed limiter set at or below the required 65 mph (105 km/h) would not have mattered and, in the previous statistic, rarely was a truck going faster than 65 mph.

Even with this information out there, the province and the OTA continue to say that speed limiters are having a significant effect on road safety.

As of the end of August, the Ministry of Transportation has handed out 3,266 citations resulting from 27,000 inspections related to the speed-limiter mandate.

In June, a traffic court judge ruled that speed limiters were unsafe and that the province’s law should be rendered unconstitutional. OOIDA Member Gene Michaud fought the province based on testimony that speed limiters violated his right to personal safety.

Michaud, an Ontario resident, drives most of his miles in the U.S. He says the law requiring him to have a speed limiter forces him to drive slower than the speed of traffic on many of the highways that he drives.

As expected, the province has appealed the traffic judge’s decision, asking for a higher court to take up the issue of constitutionality. An appeal date is pending. LL