A week after the introduction of new high-occupancy-vehicle lanes, some Southern Ontario drivers still want to live life in the fast lane – even if that means breaking the law.
The HOV lanes – created to ease congestion during the Pan American Games – are restricted to vehicles accredited for the Games, taxis, limousines, emergency responders and cars with at least three occupants. Normally, HOV lanes in Ontario require only two occupants per vehicle.
On Wednesday, Toronto police charged a driver who they say used mannequins to look like passengers, and ex-mayor Rob Ford admitted to driving alone in the lanes. Police stopped a pickup truck driving eastbound in an HOV lane on the Gardiner Expressway Wednesday morning after an officer noticed "the front-seat passenger did not appear to be lifelike," according to a news release. After inspection, police found the front- and back-seat passengers were dummies. The good news, they said, is that all were wearing seat belts.
Drivers not meeting the requirements for the lanes risk an $85 fine. On provincial roads, the fine rises to $110 and includes as many as three demerit points.
Staff Sergeant Devin Kealey of the Toronto Police Service said he's heard of drivers using dummies before, but not on the new HOV lanes. "We've had this in the past, but not certainly during the Pan Am [Games]," he said.
The pickup driver has company in high places. Mr. Ford revealed Wednesday that he, too, has broken the law by driving alone in HOV lanes, though he did not mention using mannequins.
"You've got to watch the cops over your shoulder, just a little bob and weave. … I have to get to where I have to go. They're a pain in the rear end, those HOV lanes," Mr. Ford said, adding he had seen plenty of other people doing the same.
"I see people going down the HOV lanes saying, 'Okay, basically, catch me if I can [sic]," he said.
Police had been hearing chatter about people frustrated with the new lane restrictions buying mannequins to avoid detection, Staff Sgt. Kealey said.
"We heard rumours, obviously – people online saying they were buying mannequins, and mannequin shops saying they were having a hard time keeping them in stock."
Nizar Omrani, the owner of mannequin store Ideal Displays, confirmed he had seen a large uptick in sales of mannequins since the HOV lanes were introduced.
"We had some cheap ones, and [those] are gone. The ones right now, you're looking at $350," he said.
Some people have admitted they're buying the mannequins specifically to use on the HOV lanes, Mr. Omrani said, which he doesn't mind.
"It's not illegal to have a mannequin in your car. It's illegal to have a mannequin pretending to be human in an HOV lane, but I'm not there to monitor people," he said.
Police won't be putting more effort than usual into spotting fake passengers, Staff Sgt. Kealey said.
"We want to keep the city moving, especially during the Pan Am Games, and we need everyone to assist," he said. "Our line is: 'Don't be a dummy, get some real chummies.'"
With files from Michael Fraiman