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Speed limiters: Perspective from Ontario

April 24, 2014

At the 2014 Zonar Systems user conference held this week in San Antonio, TX, Kerri Wirachowsky – an enforcement program advisor with Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation – hosted a session that delved into the Canadian experience with speed limiter regulations as a similar rulemaking effort is now winding its way to completion in the U.S.

Wirachowsky said only two Canadian provinces – Ontario and Quebec – have speed limiter rules for heavy trucks, with those rules initially established in 2009 primarily as a way to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, with improved safety and fuel economy savings as secondary benefits.

“I would expect that there would be a lot of similarities between a U.S. speed limiter rule and what we have simply because they are functions of the ECM [electronic control module] on the trucks on both our roads,” she explained. “A standard feature on any ECM is the ability to govern the vehicle’s top speed by limiting the amount of fuel provided to the injectors.”

Wirachowsky said a 2005 study of Ontario’s major highways found that 30% to 60% of heavy trucks regularly exceeded 65 miles per hour (roughly 105 kilometers per hour) and that a follow-on study conducted by Transport Canada in 2009 determined that 15% of heavy trucks regularly exceeded 68.5 mph. That same study also claimed that if heavy trucks were governed at 65 mph, 100 million liters of diesel fuel could be saved – equivalent to removing 2,700 tractor-trailers from the roadways – while reducing carbon emissions by 280,000 tons per year.

The main U.S. interest in speed limiters is the safety benefit, with research conducted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) back in 2012 determining that trucks equipped with speed control devices have a 50% lower crash rate compared to trucks not equipped with them.

Jack Van Steenburg, FMCSA’s assistant administrator and chief safety officer, emphasized at the conference that the U.S. speed limiter rule is a joint effort with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA and that FMCSA signed off on that rule a month ago – a rule FMCSA will be in charge of enforcing – and now awaits NHTSA’s final adjustments to it.

MTO’s Wirachowsky noted in her session that enforcing Ontario’s speed limiter law is very easy: all MTO officers must do is hook up a simple read-only device to the ECM port to determine whether the engine’s top speed is set at 65 mph or not. If it’s not, the minimum fine is $250, with the average citation – including court costs – totaling $390.

MTO is also authorized under Ontario’s speed limiter law to impose fines up to $20,000, with Wirachowsky noting that one MTO officer made a $10,000 fine stick to a carrier in court that had repeatedly been written up for violating the speed limiter rule.

She added that all trucks – U.S. included – must have their engines governed at 65 mph when they enter the province of Ontario and Quebec. “You need to have the speed setting changed before you reach one of our weigh stations,” she added. “Drivers can also be charged for not allowing us to access their ECM.”

Wirachowsky pointed out, however, that there are several exemptions in place to the speed limiter rule for: buses; fire trucks, ambulances and other emergency vehicles; vehicles under 26,000 lbs. GVWR; and trucks older than 1995 as engines before that date do not have the electronics necessary for governing speed.

“These rules focused on using the ECM to govern speed so as not to force operators to buy addition devices and equipment,” she explained.

Wirachowsky noted, though, that over the last three years compliance with the sped limiter rule has stayed at a steady 89.5%, with 39,343 speed limiter inspections conducted since the law’s inception in 2009 through Feb. 28 of this year resulting in just 4,156 charges.

And as Ontario and Quebec harmonized their speed limiter regulations at 65 mph, she expects a similar approach to take place in the U.S.

“Since it’s a joint rulemaking with NHTSA, that means the speed will be set at the factory where the truck is built,” she said. “I can’t imagine the U.S. will set a different speed than 65 mph, but when they do put a speed limiter rule in place, the rest of Canada will most likely follow.”

Wirachowsky also noted that Ontario is right now analyzing data from the last five years to see if its truck speed limiter law has actually reduced crash rates. “We’re unsure right now because we’ve only just begun to pull together that information,” she added.

About the Author

Sean Kilcarr | Editor in Chief

Sean previously reported and commented on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry. Also be sure to visit Sean's blog Trucks at Work where he offers analysis on a variety of different topics inside the trucking industry.

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