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Will stronger penalties be enough to stop rise in aggressive driving?

Driving.ca logo Driving.ca 2017-06-19 Lorraine Sommerfeld
RCMP show the media seven of 13 high performance cars impounded at Bayveiw Towing in Surrey in 2011. Thirteen high-end cars were impounded for racing along Highway 99 on Wednesday. © Les Bazso, Postmedia RCMP show the media seven of 13 high performance cars impounded at Bayveiw Towing in Surrey in 2011. Thirteen high-end cars were impounded for racing along Highway 99 on Wednesday.

Ontario Provincial Police just came off a winter with a 14 year record high snowmobile deaths, with 24 victims. And now, with summer not even officially here, they’re posting more record setting fatality counts on our roads and bracing themselves for a long season of carnage.

Police break down crash statistics into the Big Four: distracted driving, speed, seatbelt usage and alcohol and drugs. So far for 2017, they’re stunned to report an 80 per cent increase over last year in a category that seems to want to bully its way into the big leagues: aggressive driving.

In 2016, OPP reported “65 people died in OPP-investigated collisions last year in which an inattentive driver was either a contributing factor or the primary cause of the death. In comparison to the other Big Four categories, 2016 ended with 55 speed-related, 53 seatbelt-related and 45 alcohol-related deaths.”

That would make distracted – hey you, put down the phone – the big one. But current numbers have police scrambling to contain a growing phenomenon, the aggressive drivers. Up from 15 fatalities all of last year to 27 just to this date, police are quick to point out we haven’t officially entered summer, the dangerous, silly season of people driving over their heads.

Back in April a passel of exotic high-end cars were nabbed off Highway 400. The news flashed images of decaled Mercedes, Ferraris, Porsches and Lamborghinis, amongst others. Stunt driving charges were laid against a dozen of their drivers, meaning the bucket list machinery was towed away on flatbeds, their owners grounded and now beginning a circuitous romp through the court system to sort out the charges. Owners cried foul; police cried fair. News reports say it was surrounding motorists who made multiple calls, and police say dash-cam footage and reports will back them up.

Were they targeted? As I tell my kids whenever I’m driving one of those cars, of course you’re targeted. You might as well paint a neon bullseye on your car. You didn’t buy that car so you could, you know, blend. I’ve also met more than one owner in the category who considers the cost of speeding tickets as the cost of doing business. The rich are different from you and me.

In 2007 when Ontario introduced its so-called Stunt Driving law, the idea was to give police some teeth to round up the street racers, the brats who embraced the aftermarket parts bin like a dog on a bone and then turned our roadways into danger zones for everybody else. 

The punishment seemed onerous enough. Police could be judge and jury at the roadside, immediately seizing the car and suspending a licence. The charge would then wend its way through court, and could result in fines between $2,000 and $10,000, up to six months in jail and further licence suspensions between two and ten years. Everybody knew going 50 km/hr over the limit could result in the charge; but it also highlighted the dangerous nonsense that is indeed ‘stuntish’: driving with people in your trunk, turning left in front of a line of traffic to jump the light, weaving in and out of traffic, among other things. It was supposed to stop the idiots, and yet here we are with an 80 per cent increase in fatalities in early June.

Bill 213, a private member’s bill from Tourism Minister Eleanor McMahon seeks to toughen up the fines and jail terms. McMahon is the right one to shepherd this through the wickets; her husband, OPP Sergeant Greg Stobbart, was killed while he was cycling by a driver with five convictions for driving under suspension. Making our roads safer is going to necessarily fall to politicians if drivers themselves seem unable, or unwilling, to cut the crap.

Over the years, I get well-meaning but off centre letters from readers asking why cars are even made than can go more than 100 km/hr. They are written in earnest: why do we need vehicles that are able to go faster than any posted speed limit.

I sigh, and not just because of simplistic thinking. People will manage to break any law and endanger themselves in new and improved ways no matter the vehicle, and no matter the punishment. The downside isn’t that dangerous drivers kill themselves, it’s that they take the rest of us out with them.

I don’t know that stiffer fines and jail times will ever deter the most hardcore Ricky Racers. But short of doing what those readers have asked for – putting lawnmower engines into cars – I don’t see any other answer.

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