Caroline Mulroney means well, and her heart is in the right place. She’s Ontario’s Transportation Minister and she’s just introduced a bill that would harshen the penalties for stunt driving in the province.
“Driving is a privilege and those that threaten the safety of others have no place on our roads,” she told the Canadian Press this week, when she introduced the Moving Ontarians More Safely Act.
No argument there. The law here is already one of the strictest in the country, and while it covers all kinds of irresponsible behaviour, the focus is usually on its definition of 50 km/h and above the speed limit as being stunt driving.
For example, if you’re caught driving or riding at 151 km/h on Hwy. 401 where the speed limit is 100 km/h, or at 101 km/h on an urban street where the speed limit is 50 km/h, then you’re automatically charged with stunt driving. The police officer will impound your vehicle for a week and suspend your driver’s licence for a week. If you’re later found guilty, then your licence can be suspended for up to two years, you can go to jail, and you’ll pay a fine of at least $2,000 and perhaps up to $10,000, as well as all the costs of your vehicle’s towing and impoundment.
It gets very expensive very fast. Even just reinstating your licence will cost $281, and the record of your suspension stays on your driver’s abstract for three years. The real hit, of course, will be to your insurance, which is why so many convicted offenders drive without insurance.
The problem is that while the law’s been in place since 2007, stunting has been on the rise since 2015, and the emptier streets of the Covid-19 pandemic just encouraged even more drivers to speed excessively. In the final 10 months of last year, Mulroney says police in Toronto charged 796 drivers with stunting, which is a 222 percent increase over the same period in 2019. Clearly, something needs to be done.
There are stunting laws elsewhere in Canada, including Quebec, British Columbia, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland. Some of the penalties are even harsher, but Mulroney didn’t say if they’ve been working better or not. Her proposed solution for Ontario is to double the length of the roadside impoundment to 14 days, and more than quadruple the roadside licence suspension to 30 days. As well, she wants to lower the threshold for excessive speeding to 40 km/h over the limit on roads with a speed limit below 80 km/h.
While many of us who appreciate the potential power of motorcycles might not like this, especially on an empty, safe-access rural highway, I’m sure we can all appreciate it. Realistically, more riders will just twist the throttle and try to escape, but if you do the crime, you should do the time, and the judge should throw the book at you.
The problem is that it’s not the judge throwing the book, but the police officer who just pulled you over. If your slim and responsible motorcycle just got caught in the radar crosshairs of the speeding car or truck that was coming up from behind, then there’s no “tell it to the judge!” at the side of the road. You’ll get your day in court, but not until after you’ve had your bike taken away, your licence suspended, and your insurance whacked. And now the proposed Act wants to double down on all that.
If comments on internet forums and social media are any gauge, it seems it’s not uncommon for the prosecutor to drop the charge later to 49 km/h over the limit if the actual excess is not too excessive. This speeds things through the courts in exchange for not contesting the charge. Perhaps this is the reason for the additional length and cost of the roadside penalties.
Believe it or not, I don’t have a problem with the police officer being able to suspend your licence and impound your vehicle, provided this can be reversed if you’re later found to be innocent with no penalty to your wallet or your insurance – which it can’t. It sucks, but the police have to have some teeth if they’re to do their job effectively.
I do, however, have a very big problem with giving even more power to the discretion of the police beside the road. I’ve known and met plenty of cops in my time and I respect and appreciate most of them, but we all know there are some who abuse their power and others who just have a bad day. There are plenty more who just make a mistake, for many reasons in such a stressful profession.
So by all means, Ms. Mulroney, increase the penalties and throw the book at stunting offenders, but it must be a judge who does this in a court of law. Don’t press it on a police officer forced to make a snap decision at the side of the road. The officer is there to defend and protect all of us, not to be our judge, jury, and executioner.