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Toronto police team proposed to tackle dangerous driving, but advocate says more is needed

WATCH ABOVE: When Vision Zero launched in 2017, it was supposed to eliminate road fatalities by 2021. Falling short of its targets, Toronto city council is set to launch a re-vamped version. But as Matthew Bingley reports, its critics say it doesn't go far enough. (July 16)

The Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) is set to consider a proposal to create a dedicated, “highly visible” traffic enforcement team as part of the City’s Vision Zero efforts to reduce the number of fatalities and serious injuries on local roads.

However, a traffic safety advocate is questioning the number of officers being allocated under the proposed plan.

The report, which will be reviewed by the board on Nov. 21 and potentially will be sent along for consideration during the 2020 budget process, called for eight officers (two sergeants and six constables split into two teams) on overtime to work six-hour day and evening shifts Monday to Friday at a cost of $1 million a year in 2020 and 2021. If approved, the program would begin in January.

READ MORE: Pedestrian dead, 2 others injured after 3 separate collisions in Scarborough

“So far, in 2019, 48 people have lost their lives to traffic collisions (and) 35 of those were vulnerable road users (pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists). These are not just numbers, these are our community members,” the report said.

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“Each of these deaths were preventable. Too often, drivers’ speed, distraction, aggressiveness and impairment were identified as contributing factors in the collision.”

The report said the team will focus on the “big four” offences: speeding, distracted driving, aggressive driving and impaired driving. Deployment of the team will be based on the “most troubling neighbourhood traffic complaints” received by the service’s divisions in addition to a list of corridors flagged by the City of Toronto’s transportation staff where people have died or have been seriously injured.

“Traditionally, the main metric of the success of a traffic initiative is the number of tickets issued … Anticipated success of this enforcement initiative would be a direct reduction of [collisions where people were killed or seriously injured] as a result of targeted enforcement,” the report said.

READ MORE: Toronto council asks staff to adapt traffic safety plan to target heavy trucks, enhance school zones

Officers said City of Toronto staff found between 2013 and 2017, aggressive driving (following too closely, running red lights, speeding, street racing, driving too fast for road conditions and passing improperly) and distracted driving were contributing factors in 44 per cent of fatal collisions and 52 per cent of collisions where people were seriously injured.

“It has been well documented through numerous studies that enforcement is a key component to achieving a reduction in deaths and injuries caused through preventable collisions and poor driving behaviour,” the report noted while referencing a previous dedicated enforcement team that ran years ago.

“Between 2003 and 2012, the period of time in which the [Strategic Targeted Enforcement Measures team] was active, the service realized an overall increase of 125 per cent in provincial offence tickets while experiencing a 24 per cent decrease in the total number of collisions investigated in the city.”

The report noted the team was disbanded in 2013 as the total number of uniformed officers dropped by approximately 800 between 2011 and 2018.

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“Ultimately, as enforcement volumes decreased, collisions have increased,” police said.

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The report said there are no officers solely dedicated to traffic enforcement duties on a daily basis. It noted traffic services officers are tasked with investigating collisions and impaired driving collisions, along with conducting collision reconstruction and highway patrol assignments. The report said major collision investigations are the priority and that traffic enforcement “is a supplemental role.”

Divisional officers can also conduct traffic enforcement, but it’s only part of their overall duties.

Jess Spieker, a member and spokesperson with Friends and Families for Safe Streets, said she had a mixed reaction after reading the report Thursday afternoon.

“It’s good to see more enforcement being done because we know it’s been very clearly demonstrated in studies on this that the more enforcement there is, the fewer collisions there are,” she said.

READ MORE: Toronto city council approves $22M for Vision Zero traffic safety initiatives

“[The eight-officer team] doesn’t seem adequate to cover the city. It seems like it’s a start, but even four officers per police division wouldn’t seem adequate to me.”

Spieker said road safety doesn’t fall to just Toronto police. She called on the City of Toronto to do more and physically redesign roads, such as reducing speed limits, narrowing lanes and adding physical protection measures between vehicles and vulnerable road users.

“When we have wide lanes, it induces drivers to break the speed limit. When we have narrower car lanes, it induces drivers to obey the speed limit,” Spieker said.

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“[The City of Toronto’s Vision Zero 2.0 plan] is still pretty unambitious and it’s also quite underfunded compared to successful initiatives around the world.”

Global News attempted to ask further questions about the new initiative and the complement of officers being proposed Thursday afternoon, but a Toronto police spokesperson said they weren’t able to comment since the report still needs to be presented to the TPSB.