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driving concerns

Traffic moves along Toronto's Don Valley Parkway on Nov. 12, 2020.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Since so many people stopped driving this year, were the roads safer than usual? I know idiots were speeding on empty roads during the pandemic, but I’m wondering if accidents and crashes are down. It seems like roads got busier this summer and then were mostly back to normal, but did the spring make a big difference? – Olivia, Toronto

There were fewer tickets in Ontario this year, but that doesn’t mean that roads were safer.

From Jan. 1 to Nov. 30 this year, Ontario Provincial Police reported 268 fatal crashes – one less than the same period last year.

As of Nov. 30 last year, 296 people had been killed in 269 crashes on OPP roads. So far this year, 268 people – 28 fewer than last year – have been killed.

The number of fatal crashes is “pretty consistent with previous years,” said Staff Sgt. Carolle Dion, OPP spokeswoman, in an e-mail.

We won’t know the number of people killed on roads across Canada for a while.

At the end of the year, police forces share their reports with the provinces. The provinces then analyze the crash data and issue a report for that year. In most provinces, those reports aren’t expected until at least next year.

Fewer stops

While the number of fatal crashes on OPP roads this year is nearly the same as last year, total crashes are down by about 28 per cent, Dion said.

Likewise, the OPP handed out fewer tickets this year, Dion said.

For instance, by Nov. 30, officers had issued 145,165 speeding tickets. That’s nearly 36,000 fewer tickets than last year.

So why are tickets and total crashes down while the number of deaths remained the same?

Good question. While Dion said there was definitely less traffic in the spring, it’s still not clear exactly why that didn’t mean safer roads.

“It’s difficult to attribute the direct cause [specifically] to the volume of traffic,” Dion said. “Does one take more risks because there are fewer vehicles on the roads?”

With empty roads, speeders definitely had room to go a lot faster.

In May, an Etobicoke teen was caught driving 308 km/h in his dad’s Mercedes C 63 AMG, OPP said.

In May 2020, there were 1,157 stunting charges on OPP roads. That’s up 69 per cent from 685 in May 2019.

Charges for stunting – a charge that includes driving more than 50 km/h over the posted limit – peaked in the spring, Dion said.

The number of stunting charges fell back to normal levels by September.

Over the whole year, stunting charges are up by 22 per cent.

More impaired driving?

Another charge that didn’t drop significantly from last year? Impaired driving.

In 2020, OPP officers made 7,263 arrests for impaired driving, That’s just 274 fewer than last year, Dion said.

But even though arrests aren’t up in Ontario, there are likely more impaired drivers on the road than last year, MADD Canada said.

“Alcohol and cannabis consumption is up 20 per cent during the pandemic – which is a good indicator that harms like impaired driving also increase,” Andrew Murie, MADD Canada CEO, said in an e-mail.

In a May poll from the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, 20 per cent of respondents said they had been drinking once a day while at home.

While Murie suspects more people are driving drunk and high, there’s no data yet from provinces that can show whether that’s true.

In the United States, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found an increase in alcohol and drug use among people who’d been killed in fatal crashes this year.

“I believe the same situation is occurring in Canada, but we lack the data to confirm it,” Murie said.

Have a driving question? Send it to globedrive@globeandmail.com and put ‘Driving Concerns’ in your subject line. Emails without the correct subject line may not be answered. Canada’s a big place, so let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.

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