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COVID-19 pandemic brings out the need for speed, say police

Officers have issued a ‘significant’ amount of stunt driving tickets in the last two months, says traffic sergeant

Preliminary investigation results show that speed was a factor in a fatal single-vehicle crash on Municipal Road 35 on May 6, said Greater Sudbury Police Service at the launch of Road Safety Week in Greater Sudbury.

That crash killed the 19-year-old driver, and is one of three fatal crashes investigated by Greater Sudbury Police in 2020. Over a three-year span, from 2017 to 2019, police investigated 30 fatalities — 10 each year.

In about 65 per cent of those fatailies, alcohol, drugs or prescription medications or a combination of these substances were factors, said Traffic Sgt. Tim Burtt. 

It’s an important aspect to highlight the launch of National Road Safety Week, which coincides with Police Week, he said.

This year's theme for National Road Safety Week is about "Shifting Gears," and police are encouraging Canadians to think differently about problematic driving behaviours by broadening their understanding of the rules. 

“We go out looking for aggressive drivers, but it's not just about enforcement, it's also about education,” said Burtt. “We need to sit and talk with the public, even if it involves pulling them over and telling them what they are doing wrong. Sometimes they just don't get it, and they just need that education, and getting pulled over won't necessarily result in a ticket.”

With COVID-19 measures in place, there are fewer vehicles on the road, resulting in far fewer collisions overall, Burtt said. In comparison, there were 266 crashes in April 2019. In April 2020, there were 92.

That doesn’t mean traffic officers are being kept busy, though. Burtt said there are people using the empty roadways as an invitation to speed or race. People who might see a stretch of road with no other vehicles around might be tempted to “open it up,” he said.

“It's something we knew was going to happen, so we've been out there since the beginning of COVID-19, writing a significant amount of stunt driving charges,” Burtt said.

Stunt driving tickets are issued when a driver speeds in excess of 50 kilometers an hour over the posted speed limit. Burtt said one driver this year was fined for driving 176 km/h in a posted 80 km/h zone.

In terms of speeding tickets, Greater Sudbury Police’s traffic management unit handed out 2,424 tickets in 2019. This year, they have handed out 1,687 tickets in the first four months alone, including 1,111 pre-COVID-19, and another 576 in March and April combined.

“The roads are given a speed limit for a reason, but there are far too many people who want to push the limit, who have a need for speed, who are seeking the thrill of it, but it's not worth it,” Burtt said. “Life is too short as it is, and when you drive like that, there could be no tomorrow for you.”

He said people get angry at police when they get pulled over for speeding, but at the end of the day, handing out a speeding ticket isn’t what police want to do. It’s something they have to do to make sure the roads are safer.

“We are always asked, don't you have anything better to do? Yeah we do, but this is our job, to keep people safe on the road. Your kids are going to school, to work, they're driving. Do you want someone driving impaired, or speeding at 170 kms and hour in an 80 and pose a danger to your kids? 

“We do a job a lot of people don't like. I don't like giving people a speeding ticket, because it impacts their life, financially and long term, so slow down.” 

However, fines aren’t always inevitable, Burtt said. If someone is pulled over for going 20 or 25 kilometres over the speed limit, it could very well just be an educational stop with a warning from the officer to slow down. 

If it's someone doing 40, 50, 60 or even 80 kilometres over the speed limit, it would be a much tougher lesson in the form of a provincial offences fine, Burtt said. That comes with a heftier price tag, as it would negatively affect the driver’s insurance rates.

Greater Sudbury Police expanded its traffic management unit by two officers in January, Burtt said. That’s two more officers per shift, with some dedicated to just education and enforcement, but all of whom take seriously their responsibility to road safety.

On a side note, during the brief launch of National Safety Week on Municipal Road 35 between Azilda and Sudbury, officers set up speed checks with laser speed measuring devices, and pulled over at least two vehicles during the press conference.

The Ontario Provincial Police said it is reporting an increase in road fatalities, as well as the leading behaviours linked to the deaths, which are the very focus of the national campaign.

As of May 4, 2020, 71 people have died in fatal collisions on OPP-patrolled roads. This time last year, there were 61 deaths.

While speed is linked to the highest number of fatalities (17 this year), inattentive-related deaths (12) have seen the most significant spike and are up 300 per cent over last year.

All other leading traffic fatality causal factors are up, as are fatal collisions and pedestrian deaths:     

Number of fatal collisions: 63 in 2020, up 10.5 per cent for 57 in 2019

Persons killed: 71 in 2020, up 16.4 per cent from 61 in 2019

Speed-related fatalities: 17 in 2020, up 13.3 per cent from 15 in 2019

(Lack of) seat belt-related fatalities: 15 in 2022, up 25 per cent from 12 2019

Inattentive-related fatalities: 12 in 2020, up 300 per cent in 2019

Alcohol/drug-related fatalities: 12 in 2020, up 20 per cent from 10 in 2019

Pedestrians fatalities: 14 in 2020, up 75 per cent from eight in 2019

"Drivers need to carefully consider the main behaviours and actions that are linked to the many lives lost on our roads every year," said OPP Chief Superintendent Rohan Thompson, Commander, Highway Safety Division. "Fatigue and prescription drug use are forms of impaired driving. Aggressive driving isn't just about speeding, it includes tail-gaiting and other unsafe maneuvers. Distracted driving isn't just about cell phones, it's also about programming your GPS or eating behind the wheel. Safe drivers mean safe roads. Drive like your life depends on it, because it does."