Not unexpected everybody thinks "street racers" are the only ones targeted by this bill well surprise. The more "folks" that get caught in this llaw the quicker it will get challenged
When Jason Stainthorpe was caught speeding on his way to church last Sunday, he figured the worst he was facing was a hefty ticket and some heat from his fiancee for being late.
Instead, he wound up stranded by the side of the highway, desperately trying to figure out how to tell her he'd just lost his licence and her SUV for a week, faced a fine that could run into the thousands and might no longer be able to afford his auto insurance.
He didn't realize it at the time, but doing 50 over the speed limit – 150 km/h on a highway with a posted limit of 100 km/h – meant Stainthorpe had run afoul of a stringent new speeding law in Ontario, billed as a tough measure to combat street racing.
Stainthorpe joined the more than 1,300 drivers who have been nailed since the new law took effect on Sept. 30, all of whom were off the road for a week and faced the possibility of a staggering fine that ranges between $2,000 and $10,000.
The ranks of those caught under the new law are hardly the street-racing type: They run the gamut from teenaged girls to elderly men and just about every demographic in between.
The most common age of offenders has been 21, the average age is 30, and half the charges have been laid against drivers 26 and under. About 13 of the drivers were 65 or older, and 41 were 17 or younger. Almost 84 per cent were male and 16 per cent were female.
When police lobbied for the new law, they expected the province's most aggressive drivers would get caught and hopefully learn a lesson. They didn't anticipate the number of charges would be so high and represent every segment of the driving public.
Stainthorpe, a 33-year-old registered nurse, admitted he was speeding, but was furious that police wouldn't let him off with a warning since he had never heard of the new law.
"I certainly would not have been doing 50 over if I knew this was going to happen to me," he fumed as he waited for police to finish his paperwork on the side of Highway 403 in Mississauga.
"I have three kids, I have to go to work for a week and they just do not give a crap. They have no sympathy for people and it's unfair and they treat people like crap."
About an hour after a shell-shocked Stainthorpe tried to come to grips with his dilemma, police stopped another vehicle going 155 km/h on the same highway – this time a 34-year-old woman with three pre-teen kids in the car.
"Look, I was speeding," said the inconsolable woman, who declined to give her name, as she waited for a taxi.
"I expected a ticket, and then I was like, `Oh, crap.' I did not expect to have my car towed and have them leave my nephews and I no way to get home."
She told the officers on the scene she was driving a brand new car, and didn't feel her speed climbing until she heard the sirens behind her.
Ontario police Sgt. Dennis Mahoney-Bruer has heard that excuse too many times, and after hearing the same thing over and over – he's even watched grown men bawl their eyes out in front of him – his sympathy is wearing thin.
"A little indication (is) if you're going down the highway and you're passing everybody – hello, chances are you're speeding," Mahoney-Bruer said, before adding that some excuses do tug on his heart strings and make him pause before calling a tow truck.
"We're all human, we all have a certain amount of feelings . . . but we have that rule now and we're really sticking to it. We really want to get the message to the people out there that you're not going to talk your way out of this."
The relentless blitz on speeders – dubbed a "shock-and-awe" campaign by provincial police Commissioner Julian Fantino – is likely catching drivers by surprise because people often don't acknowledge that they act dangerously on the road, said Spencer McDonald, the founder of Thinking Driver, a road-safety program designed for people who drive for a living.
"Culturally we all have a higher opinion of our own driving than it actually is, thinking we're better than we really are," McDonald said.
"If you go speeding down the road you can say, `Well, I'm not a bad person, or I'm not an idiot, I'm just simply late for a meeting,' but when the guy speeds past you down the road, he's an idiot."
A forthcoming report from Transport Canada also finds that most drivers don't recognize their own bad habits, and the unfortunate power they have to kill with their car, said Paul Boase of the Canadian Association of Road Safety Professionals.
"For a very long time, speeding – while illegal – was not really treated as a problem," Boase said.
"When people thought about speed and risk, they thought about the risk of getting caught, but the real risk is hitting someone."
And because the new law is classified as a street-racing offence, Boase said many drivers don't believe they're being targeted by police and think they can continue to speed at will.
"There's definitely this perception that street racing is a real serious problem and we ought to hit those people hard, but drivers say, `That's not me, even if I'm doing 50 over that's not me because I'm not racing, I'm just trying to get home."'
There's no doubt some of the offenders are habitual speeders, but it's also likely that some of them were simply unlucky, and were caught using bad judgment that may not reflect their normal driving style, McDonald said.
"Most people are sane, responsible, law-abiding drivers, but they will – when placed under stressful or difficult circumstances – make inappropriate decisions and expose themselves to excessive risk."
While an average of 35 drivers continue to get nabbed every day – and that average has dipped only slightly since the law took effect – many have wised up and are now remaining just below the 150 km/h threshold, Mahoney-Bruer said.
"The last two night shifts when I went out exclusively looking for 50 km/h and above I had none," he said. "The highest speed I had was 48 over, so definitely the knowledge is getting out there."
Brian Lawrie, president of Pointts, which bills itself as Canada's original and most successful traffic court agency, said the new law may bring him more business, but he considers it a bad idea that could cost someone their job because of human error or an equipment malfunction.
"It sounds good to everybody that doing 50 over should be punished right on the spot, but where does the presumption of innocence go when you do that?" Lawrie said.
"When we finally find out that . . . the person is found not guilty, then who gives them their job back?"
Ontario's new transportation minister, Jim Bradley, said he has no qualms about the law and rejects the idea that most people don't know about it.
"I see signs on the highway about it, it's been in the newspaper, it's been on the radio, it's been on television," he said.
"I think people know. It's an excuse that people try to use, and it's never an excuse not to know what the law is."