Open roads see increase in stunt drivers

By HUB SmartCoverage Team on May 19th, 2020

COVID-19 appears to have given the green light to drivers who travel at excessive speeds and insurers are taking notice.

Ontario Provincial Police caught two different drivers recently going more than twice the speed limit on highways, part of a growing trend of dangerous driving on open roads during the pandemic.

One driver in Toronto was clocked at a whopping 308 km/h on the QEW, while another was caught driving 207 km/h on Highway 403. The speed limit on both roadways is 100 km/h.

The two vehicles ran afoul of the province’s stunt driving laws, meaning the licences of both drivers were suspended for seven days; their vehicles were impounded for the same amount of time. Such penalties are issued when drivers are caught speeding more than 50 km/h over the legal limit. Stunt driving carries fines up to $10,000 and can end with six months in jail and a loss of licence for up to two years.

The 18-year-old was driving his parents' Mercedes on the QEW and had a 19-year-old man riding in the passenger seat, police said.

“This is the fastest speed that I've ever heard of," said Sgt. Kerry Schmidt of the OPP’s Highway Safety Division in a 13-minute video posted to social media.

Officer ‘speechless’

The veteran officer, visibly annoyed, said he was "pretty much speechless" when he heard how fast the car was going before police managed to pull it over in Burlington, Ont., around 10 p.m. on May 9.

"This could have turned into the most devastating, fatal crash ever," he said.

"Unbelievable speeds. We're talking 191 miles an hour … 85 metres a second, 280 feet per second," he added, saying the car was moving so fast other drivers would not have been able to react to get out of its way in time.

"It takes time for people to recognize threats and issues on the highway and be able to react to it and avoid a collision. This is absolutely egregious for anyone to be going those kinds of speeds," said the officer.

The other driver, 19, was clocked going 207 km/h on a Highway 403, west of Toronto.

Police have noticed a trend of motorists driving fast and furious on the open roads during the pandemic. According to the OPP, there have been 150 violations of the stunt driving law since May 1, continuing a trend that started last month. Schmidt told Canadian Underwriter that there was 358 stunt driving offences in April — a 26 per cent increase from the same month last year.

In Toronto, those numbers are more startling. Since March 23 (the end of the first full week of stay-at-home orders to prevent the spread of COVID-19) until the end of April, Toronto Police Service reported 222 stunt-driving offences — a 594 per cent increase. Speeding infractions (at 6,908 offences) are up 25 per cent over the same amount of time.

These emergency orders have reduced road traffic. “As a result of that, we’re seeing lighter traffic volumes and individuals are taking advantage of the open roads — driving faster and putting themselves and others around them at risk,” Sgt. Jason Kraft with Traffic Services at Toronto Police Service said in an interview with Canadian Underwriter.

Drop in collisions

The increase in speeders comes as collisions drop dramatically. Schmidt reported a 60 per cent drop in collisions in April compared to last year. In Toronto, since the pandemic started, Kraft said collisions are down nearly 80 per cent.

These statistics are behind the public’s push for insurers to offer rebates. Most have responded with some form of relief measures. But the increase in traffic violations may not just negate any discounts, it would push rates higher for drivers, insurers warned.

“As an insurer, we are strong advocates of safe driving. Safer roads and safer drivers help to stabilize rates,” a spokesperson from Intact said in an interview withCanadian Underwriter. “Insurance premiums reflect individual risk characteristics, based on each insurer’s rating algorithm.”

Road safety is also top of mind at Aviva Canada. “Safe driving is an easy way for drivers to ensure they save money on insurance (and tickets),” said Phil Gibson, managing director of personal insurance, told Canadian Underwriter. “This temporary increase in unsafe driving, just like a temporary decrease in driving in general, will get taken into account as we calculate the appropriate premiums. For now, we are closely monitoring to see which are short-term changes versus which become long term trends, so that we respond responsibly.”

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