Mayor John Tory says that cameras designed to catch speeders will be activated at 50 locations around Toronto on Monday. Good. The rash of pedestrian deaths on city roadways in recent years has made the case for photo radar. The wave of speeding and street racing during the pandemic has confirmed it.
No one who has driven around the city and its hinterland in the past few months can have failed to notice all the speed demons on the road. Some weave in and out of moving traffic, racing each other right in the midst of ordinary travellers. Solo speeders simply open up, tailgating anyone who dares to get in their way. Seeing someone clocking 140, 150 or 160 in a 100-kilometre-an-hour zone is commonplace. So is rapid and reckless lane-changing.
Perhaps drivers feel that, with fewer cars on the road, they are suddenly free to floor it. Perhaps they are tired of being cooped up at home and just want to let loose. Perhaps the way life has changed makes them believe the ordinary rules have been suspended and they can do what they want. Whatever the reason, it is the Wild West on the roads right now.
Mr. Tory says police recorded a 600-per-cent rise in stunt driving between March 23 and April 27, at the start of the COVID-19 lockdown. Some drivers were doing three times the legal speed limit. The Ontario Provincial Police say they caught one 18-year-old driving his parents’ Mercedes at 308 kilometres an hour on the Queen Elizabeth Way on May 9. OPP Sergeant Kerry Schmidt said the force was seeing an increase in every kind of high-risk behaviour on the roads.
Police in York Region, north of Toronto, report that they laid 300 stunt-driving charges in the first half of May. Among the drivers was a 16-year-old boy in his mother’s car who was doing 120 in a 60-km/h zone.
The risks are obvious. In one tragic case, a mother and her three young daughters were killed when they were involved in a crash with another car in Brampton on Toronto’s flank this month. The 20-year-old driver of the other vehicle has been charged with four counts of dangerous operation of a vehicle causing death, though the circumstances of the collision are unclear and the charges unproven.
What to do? Putting more patrol cars on the road to catch dodgers and speeders is one option, but that would cost a lot of money and gobble up a lot of police time. The Toronto area has plenty of highways and police cannot be everywhere. That is the advantage of photo radar.
Toronto’s 50 cameras will capture an image of the speeding vehicle. The owner will get a ticket in the mail. The fines will escalate with the recorded speed. Someone driving 49 km/h over the limit would have to pay a whopping $718. That should be a considerable disincentive for lead feet.
Of course, some drivers won’t like it. Conservative premier Mike Harris scrapped highway photo radar when he took office in 1995 and politicians have been wary of bringing it back. A survey by the provincial government last year found that many voters consider it a simple cash grab.
But, according to CBC News, the survey also found that those who objected to photo radar were outnumbered two to one by those who thought it was a good idea. The rise of reckless driving during the COVID-19 crisis is bound to increase that majority.
Toronto’s 50 cameras are a good step forward. After years of foot-dragging, Queen’s Park finally moved last year to give municipalities permission to put up radar cameras if they choose. Why not provincial highways, too? These days, they sometimes look more like drag strips than regulated roadways. As intrusive as it may seem to put electronic eyes on them, radar would make the roads safer for everyone.
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