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Aug 17, 2020

5 min. read

Since the lockdown began in March, we’ve been working and schooling primarily from home. The challenges posed by those isolation measures aside, COVID-19 has had a direct impact on our roads.

With most of us holed up inside, we’ve seen a decrease in the volume of traffic. However, emptier roads has meant more opportunity for some drivers to engage in excessive speeding, stunt driving, street racing and aggressive driving.

“As roads got quieter, people took advantage of the open roads,” affirms Sgt. Dan St. Amand of the York Regional Police’s Road Safety Bureau. “We saw the average speeds going up and the number of being people charged with stunts going up substantially.”

His views are echoed by a majority of Canadians (59%) who reported seeing an increase in dangerous driving while COVID-19 restrictions have been in place, according to a new poll that CAA recently conducted.

“These numbers are concerning,” says Teresa Di Felice, assistant vice-president of government and community relations for CAA South Central Ontario.  “It doesn’t matter if you are going for a five-minute trip to the store, or a 30-minute scenic drive, keeping each other safe on and around our roads should always be top of mind.”

Stunt driving on the rise. 

Stunt driving is a particular concern to those enforcing the safety of Ontario’s roads due to its prevalence. Section 172 of the Highway Traffic Act makes stunt driving an offence and a ticket will be issued when a driver is caught going over fifty kilometers per hour. Along with excessive speed, a “stunt” can encompass various dangerous driving behaviour, including:

Driving in a manner that indicates an intention:

  • to chase another motor vehicle;

  • to lift some or all of one’s tires from the surface of the highway;

  • to spin the car or cause it to circle, without maintaining control over it.

Driving two or more motor vehicles side by side:

  • where one occupies for a long period of time a lane of traffic or portion of the highway intended for use by oncoming traffic.

According to Sgt. Kerry Schmidt of the Ontario Provincial Police, stunt driving has not only worsened, it’s also broadened in scope. To wit: between March and July of 2019 there were 2970 stunt driving charges in the province, whereas the same period this year saw 3834 charges.

St. Amand echoes those findings. “We’ve seen the numbers go up in excess of 120% since COVID and 140% since the beginning of year,” he shares.

Drivers face consequences. 

Typically, stunt driving is witnessed late at night or on weekends, Schmidt adds. But, with less road traffic and congestion we’re now seeing drivers engage in the dangerous behaviour mid-day and mid-week, during normal business hours.

Emptier roads are one thing, but St. Amand believes the higher prevalence of stunt and other aggressive driving is also due to a growing anti-establishment culture and the desire to garner attention on social media.

And then there’s the influence of the car culture, no doubt encouraged by the Fast and Furious movie series, which has inspired drivers to modify their vehicles to make them faster and higher performing, he adds.

Drivers caught engaging in aggressive or stunt driving face an immediate seven-day licence suspension and vehicle impoundment, as well as potentially six months in prison, $10,000 in fines and other penalties once convicted.

Depending on the severity of the incident, dangerous driving charges could be laid, leading to criminal charges under the Criminal Code of Canada.

Education, enforcement promote safety.

Despite these legal measures, it’s obvious more needs to be done to curb the behaviour. That’s why York Regional Police developed ERASE (Eliminate Racing Activity on Streets Everywhere). With a focus on street racing, ERASE is a partnership among all GTA police departments and the OPP to ensure a comprehensive approach to enforcement activities.

The OPP is also doing what it can to educate drivers on the potential consequences from speeding and aggressive driving, one of the leading causes of traffic fatalities on Ontario roads. Whether the pandemic continues to lighten our roads or traffic returns soon, speeding puts you and everyone around you in danger. Only by slowing down and being mindful of fellow drivers, can we keep Ontario’s roads safe for all.

For more information on CAA's road safety efforts, visit: caasco.com/roadsafety.

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