Racing law not deterring speeders as hoped
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Sep 29, 2008 07:55 PM
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THE CANADIAN PRESS
A controversial Ontario law aimed at street racing that gives police the power to seize vehicles from drivers caught going 50 km/h over the speed limit marks its one-year anniversary Tuesday, but the number of daily busts isn't dropping as substantially as authorities predicted.
With speeders facing sweeping police powers to impound a driver's car for a week – and with fines of up to $10,000 in play – authorities expected that the message would get through pretty fast.
But that really hasn't happened.
The average number of busts at the outset was almost 40 drivers daily.
The current trend of about 23 drivers ticketed a day suggests more than 10,000 will be nabbed by the end of the calendar year. As of late last week, 8,459 drivers have been charged under the provincial street racing law.
Drivers haven't got the message as hoped, but the law is still considered a success, said provincial police Commissioner Julian Fantino.
"It's disappointing that there wouldn't be a better outcome a year down the road, but we're not in any way, shape or form deterred from continuing to do what we're doing," he said in an interview.
Fantino said he's satisfied with the success rate of the cases in the courts, even though only 41 per cent have resulted in a conviction under the legislation. The law comes with a mandatory fine of between $2,000 and $10,000 – the highest penalty in the country for speeding.
As of Aug. 31 – the most recent statistics available – 2,896 charges have been dealt with by the courts and 39 per cent were reduced to another charge, such as speeding. Twenty per cent resulted in a withdrawal, stay, dismissal or acquittal.
"The dropping issue is sometimes predicated on the long dockets and other factors, but at the end of the day ... people are being held accountable," Fantino said. "So it's small steps in the right direction."
Fantino conceded that some of the worst offenders on the roads haven't been scared off. More than three dozen drivers have been charged twice with breaking the new law, and some have been caught three times.
"There are those who are chronic abusers and just don't seem to get it," he said.
"Like every other aspect of law breaking, there's those who are (recidivists) and don't seem to learn the first or second time.
"We intended to deal with this from the outset, one irresponsible driver at a time, and we're committed and we know this is in fact working."
Brian Lawrie of Pointts, a company that represents drivers in court to fight tickets, said the conviction rate proves the law is unfair and police shouldn't be imposing extreme penalties before getting their day in court.
Drivers charged under the law immediately lose their car and must pay to have it towed and impounded for a week. Even if they win in court, there's no avenue – outside of taking the government to court – to get those costs refunded.
The provincial police say they've also received numerous complaints from motorists of being overcharged and hit with illegal fees after being towed by disreputable operators.
"This sort of justice meted at the side of the highway is not the Canadian way and it's not a fair way either," Lawrie said.
"I have absolutely no problem with someone losing their licence, or their vehicle, after having a trial because each of us and our families share the roads and we want to be protected from these people, but there's got to be due process."
Some Pointts lawyers have filed constitutional challenges on behalf of their clients but one, who asked not to be named, admitted the chances of setting a precedent that would take down the law are slim.
For the drivers who have already paid to have their car towed and impounded and were fined for so-called street racing, the next big hit will come when their insurance is up for renewal and it may create another set of headaches.
Randy Carroll, president of the Insurance Brokers Association of Ontario, said a driver with a previously clean record could be dropped by their insurance company if convicted of street racing and face insurance rates up to four times higher.
With an accident or two on their record, a driver's insurance premiums could go up to five or six times more than previously paid.
The government has no intentions of backing away from the law and believes it's fair with tough but appropriate punishments, said Transportation Minister Jim Bradley.
"The people who are in a position of having to go to a funeral when it's someone in their family (that dies), they are supportive," he said. "There's no question that the public is supportive."