Toronto police are pleading with Rob Ford to hire a driver after the mayor got in trouble behind the wheel again, this time for apparently reading while driving on the Gardiner Expressway.
While Mr. Ford shrugged off the Tuesday morning incident as unavoidable for a “busy” chief magistrate, Toronto police used it as an excuse to join a chorus of friends and foes urging the mayor to employ an official driver.
“On behalf of all the citizens of Toronto that value road safety, Mr. Mayor ... please get a driver. It is obvious that you are busy enough to require one and no amount of money you are saving by not having one is worth the life of one of your citizens,” Sgt. Tim Burrows wrote on Toronto police’s official Facebook page.
The last sentence of Sgt. Burrows's post was later removed.
This latest bump in the road for Toronto’s mayor began when a Twitter user by the handle of @ryanghaughton tweeted a picture of Mr. Ford holding up a sheaf of papers while in the driver’s seat of his Cadillac Escalade.
“The picture was taken around 10 am while on the Gardiner and traffic was moving at about 70 km heading eastbound just by Jameson,” the user tweeted before deleting the picture and shutting down his Twitter account.
The mayor couldn’t see what all the fuss was about when asked about the picture at a news conference officially announcing a trade mission to Chicago.
Was that him behind the wheel? “Yeah, probably. I’m busy,” he said. “Trying to catch up on my work. You know, keep my eyes on the road, but I’m a busy man.”
Asked whether he saw a problem with reading while driving on the Gardiner, the mayor replied: “Well, I’m busy. I don’t know what that has to do with our trade mission, but anyways ...” he said, before an aide announced Mr. Ford would take only one more question.
"Ridiculous questions, sometimes, seriously," the mayor added as an aside.
Reading while driving is not against the law, according to Toronto police.
But it could be a factor in laying a charge of careless driving if it contributes to illegal behaviour such as an unsafe lane change or a collision, said Constable Clint Stibbe of the Toronto police traffic services division.
"On its own, holding a paper in your hand is not [cause for] a charge. Just like you holding a coffee in your hand. You can’t be charged for that," he said.
This is not the first time Mr. Ford has been criticized for his behaviour on the road.
In July, he and a TTC driver exchanged words after the operator left his seat to scold Mr. Ford for allegedly driving past the open doors of the Dundas streetcar.
Mr. Ford, who complained about the driver’s behaviour to TTC boss Andy Byford, later told reporters that he drove past the closed back doors, but stopped behind the open front doors.
"The driver came out and accosted me," he said.
Ontario's Highway Traffic Act says vehicles must stop two metres behind any open door on a streetcar.
In July, 2011, the mayor admitted to talking on his hand-held cell phone while driving, but denied a Toronto woman’s claim that he gave her six-year-old daughter the finger when the pair chided him for breaking the law.
The mayor’s press secretary at the time said Mr. Ford, who is famous for returning calls to constituents day and night, was making an effort to use his hands-free OnStar device more often.
As one of Toronto’s most recognizable figures, Mr. Ford has had trouble escaping publicity for his behaviour behind the wheel.
His recognizable ride probably hasn’t helped.
Before his brothers bought him a new Cadillac Escalade this summer – which is actually registered to the Ford family printing company – he drove an old brown Chevrolet Uplander van with vanity plates, first displaying his own name, then the name of the school where he serves as a volunteer football coach.
The mayor’s new vehicle does not have a vanity plate.
Previous mayors, including David Miller, employed drivers at taxpayers’ expense, but the frugal Mr. Ford has refused to follow suit.
Even his own brother hasn’t succeeded in convincing the mayor to stop driving himself everywhere.
"Absolutely. One hundred per cent," the mayor needs a driver, the councillor reiterated on Tuesday.