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Speeding on empty streets amid COVID-19 spurs warnings from police

Video of alleged stunt driver pulled over by York Regional Police
WATCH: Video of alleged stunt driver pulled over by York Regional Police

In Saskatoon, a driver was spotted by a police helicopter going 115 kilometres per hour in a 60-km/h zone.

In Winnipeg, police nabbed five drivers in one week going more than 50 km/h over the speed limit.

READ MORE: Roadway fatalities caused by speeding trending upwards — OPP

In the Greater Toronto Area, a driver was clocked at 308 km/hr, and days later, police impounded nine vehicles on the same night for stunt driving.

With millions of Canadians spending more time at home due to the coronavirus pandemic, the volume of traffic on streets and highways has plummeted — and some drivers appear to be taking advantage.

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Teen caught doing 308 km/h on QEW retains luxury car lawyer
Teen caught doing 308 km/h on QEW retains luxury car lawyer

But for anyone thinking the circumstances are a licence to speed, Chief Robert Martin of the West Grey police says officers are still out there doing their jobs.

His message comes amid Canada Road Safety Week, a campaign led by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP) that runs from May 12 to 18.

READ MORE: Fewer cars on streets amid coronavirus pandemic means uptick in racing, says Winnipeg councillor

“We are still enforcing the laws. And there are consequences to the behaviours you adopt behind the wheel of a car,” said Martin, who is chair of the CACP’s traffic safety committee.

Those consequences could include losing a life — the driver’s or someone else’s. A quarter of all road fatalities in this country involve speeding, Martin noted.

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“By driving at those speeds, they’re putting themselves and the other road users in danger,” he said.

Calgary issues warning after drivers caught going almost 200 km/h
Calgary issues warning after drivers caught going almost 200 km/h

High-speed driving in Canadian cities

Global News obtained information on the prevalence of extreme speeding and street racing from more than a dozen police forces in eight provinces.

While some expressed concern about speeding activity in their communities or pointed to a clear uptick in offences, others said the number of tickets actually fell in comparison to previous periods.

READ MORE: Self-isolation speeders — Calgary police warn empty streets aren’t an invitation for lead-footed drivers

Toronto police recently said the number of stunt driving charges — laid in cases where drivers exceed the speed limit by 50 km/h or more — has increased by nearly 600 per cent over last year.

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In Edmonton, the amount of traffic is lower, though the city has seen more speeding both in neighbourhoods and along major roadways, according to Jessica Lamarre, the city’s director of traffic safety.

Need for excessive speed: Police across B.C. impounding vehicles going more than 40km over limit during pandemic
Need for excessive speed: Police across B.C. impounding vehicles going more than 40km over limit during pandemic

“While the total number of violations is fluctuating from week to week (as it normally does given weather and many other factors), the numbers of people at extreme speeds continue to be high,” she said in an email.

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Edmonton uses various methods of automated speed enforcement, including cameras. During the week of April 27, more than 900 people were caught speeding over 20 km/h more than the posted limit. This year, 114 drivers were caught doing 50 km/h over the limit, which is 47 more violations than last year, though the city has added additional automated enforcement equipment in that time frame.

READ MORE: Recent uptick in speeding on Edmonton roads concerns mayor and city official

Police forces in Quebec City and Montreal said they are not seeing widespread issues with street-racing behaviour. A spokesperson for the Sûreté du Québec could not immediately provide statistics but noted the reduction in traffic overall.

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In Regina, about a third as many speeding tickets have been issued in March and April compared with last year, but a spokesperson said the redeployment of traffic officers to the front lines would likely be partially responsible for that. Saskatoon, which has also modified policing operations due to the pandemic, said this year’s speeding statistics wouldn’t accurately convey the reality, but officers are seeing similar behaviour as in the past.

Winnipeg police said they haven’t been commenting on media requests for data on crime or calls for service during the pandemic because short-term changes aren’t significant from a statistical standpoint.

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“Further, any attempts to attribute these changes to the pandemic are not supported and could easily be used to draw erroneous conclusions,” Const. Rob Carver said in a statement.

Drivers’ perception of risk may be lower, researcher says

If there has been an increase in extreme speeding during the pandemic, one Toronto researcher who studies driver behaviour pointed to several factors that could be behind it.

People tend to modify their behaviours in accordance with their environment. With roadways now closer to empty, there may be a perception that the safety risk — along with the risk of getting caught — has decreased, said Christine Wickens, an independent scientist at the Institute for Mental Health Policy Research at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

Roadway fatalities caused by speeding trending upwards: OPP
Roadway fatalities caused by speeding trending upwards: OPP

“And I think for some, the novelty and excitement at the prospect of engaging in these behaviours in places where they would never have dared to before — that’s very tempting,” She said. “And so you find people, perhaps they are choosing to engage in more risky behaviour than they typically would.”

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READ MORE: Teen clocked going 308 km/h on QEW in dad’s car — OPP

Perceptions aside, though, the risk of hurting oneself or others remains. A driver cannot control everything in their environment, she said.

“Anything that’s likely to add to the load of our health-care system, our health-care workers, during a pandemic — including injuries from completely avoidable motor vehicle crashes — really needs to be discouraged,” she said.

What police forces are saying

Halifax, N.S.

  • The number of summary offence tickets issued in 2020 was 398 in January, 358 in February, 298 in March and four in April.”We have not done an analysis on this data but we do know that given the current situation, traffic on the roadway has been greatly reduced as have some of our directed enforcement. As always we encourage the public to drive carefully and safely within the posted speed limits,” said Halifax Regional Police public information officer Const. John MacLeod.

Lethbridge, Alta.

  • In March and April 2019, three tickets were issued for driving 50 km/h over the speed limit. This year, there have been five.”We’re actually seeing less traffic on the roadways, but an increase in the speeds we’re enforcing,” said Kristen Harding, strategic communications manager for the Lethbridge police chief’s office. “We’ve also seen an increase in racing and stunting on some streets, possibly because there’s less traffic and people feel they have more space or a greater ability to engage in that kind of behaviour.”

Vancouver, B.C.

  • Sgt. Aaron Roed of the Vancouver Police Department said officers saw a drop in motor vehicle infractions at the start of the pandemic, but more recently, bad behaviour has ramped up. People seem to be taking advantage of the clear roadways, he said.”Over the past few weeks, we have noticed an increase in aggressive driving, which is not only excessive speeding. This would include tailgating, weaving in and out of traffic and other such violations. We do have a full allotment of VPD traffic officers out on the roads targeting these offenders,” he said.

London, Ont.

  • Twenty-six stunt driving tickets were issued by London police between March 23 and May 11, along with 399 speeding tickets.”We know that vehicles travelling at high rates of speed exponentially increases the risk of injury or death for the occupants of not only those inside the vehicles, but members of the public as well, therefore our officers have been focusing on these types of infractions,” media relations officer Const. Sandasha Bough said.

Ottawa

  • Police in Ottawa launched a three-month speed enforcement campaign earlier this month after a rise in complaints and speeding infractions on the roads. They ticketed 19 drivers in April.

Peterborough, Ont.

  • Between April and May, three stunt driving charges were laid in Peterborough, Ont.,  while none were laid during the same period in 2019. A spokesperson for Peterborough police said that in the first quarter of the year, traffic complaints rose by 95 per cent. “While there are certainly less vehicles on the roads during the pandemic we continue to message to our community that the law still applies and we continue to patrol our area roads 24/7,” said Lauren Gilchrist, media relations co-ordinator for Peterborough police.

— With a file from Ryan Rocca, Global News

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