Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Knee-jerk Politics

Earlier today a 25 year-old man lost his life after he crashed his Honda Accord in what police believe was a street race that went wrong. This is unfortunate, and it tends to happen several times per year in the Greater Toronto area. The Toronto Star's article on this (available here) says that 34 people have died in incidents like this in the GTA in the past six years. Without trying to trivialize that or detract from the significance to those involved and their families and friends, that's less than 6, on average, per year. For perspective, 241 people were murdered last year in Toronto. I don't have access to the numbers, but I'll bet that many more than 6 people die each year as a result of inadequate driver training and testing standards.

Why this issue bothers me so much is that politicians and high-ranking police officers with political aspirations (Mr. Fantino, I'm looking squarely at you) leap at this as an opportunity to show how much they care about the safety of the public and taking positive action to do the right thing. That's when we get asinine laws passed like Bill 203, Safer Streets for a Safer Ontario, which resulted in Ontario Highway Traffic Act Regulation 455/07, commonly know as the Street Racing Law. If you have several minutes, you should read it here.

The act contains some good ideas, but also many that are not as productive. The biggest negative is the ability for an officer's discretion to result in your vehicle being towed and impounded for a week, on the spot, while you lose your license for the same period. Additionally, fines from between $2000 to $10,000 apply, and it's possible to face jail time. The towing and impound fees themselves are almost guaranteed to total into the four digit range on their own. Don't own the vehicle? The lucky owner gets to pay the towing and impound fees; it's up to them to get you to pay them back.

Even if you go to court and the charge is dismissed, you are not reimbursed for the towing and impound costs. Have a nice day.

This puts far too much power and responsibility into the hands of the officers, and as far as I'm concerned, violates my right to trial before prosecution. Speeding 50 km/h over is a bit more clear cut, but it should be pointed out that laws already exist that cover many of the actions described in this regulation, and police already had charges like Careless Driving to use their discretion on. What should have happened is that the penalties for those charges should have been increased to meaningful levels, not taken to the political spotlight level that occurred instead.

The latest to jump on the road safety bandwagon is Jim Karygiannis, MP for Scarborough-Agincourt, who according to the Star "released a statement today saying he will introduce a federal bill on limiting speed. Karygiannis wants manufacturers to install a device that will limit the maximum speed of any car to 150 km/h. He proposed a similar bill previously but it died when the election was called last May."

I have a major problem with that. Do I think that we should all be blazing along at over 150 km/h on the 400-series highways? No, I don't, even if I do think that the 100 km/h maximum is antiquated and needs rethinking. That's what greater enforcement and stricter penalties are for. Governing cars to 150 km/h isn't going to prevent deaths such as occurred this morning either. Mr.Karygiannis claims on his website (here) that the two cars were going about 180 km/h. I'm skeptical that the Honda Accord pictured was doing that speed when the driver lost control. Besides, his proposed legislation won't keep morons from doing 80 km/h through residential streets or speeding through school zones. Sure sounds "tough on crime" though. Way to go.