Stunt driving: Charges for the ‘extremely dangerous’ activity is down locally in 2017, but remains a major issue for area police

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OPP Sgt. Dave Rektor has heard all the excuses from speeding motorists.

They’re running late. The vehicle’s speedometer is broken. They just bought new tires.

Those are just a sample of the reasons Rektor says drivers caught travelling more than 50 km/h over the speed limit — an offence known as stunt driving or street racing in Ontario — have given him over his 29-year policing career.

“You just get a whole gamut of excuses,” Rektor said.

“How can somebody be that self-centred in their driving behaviour to drive like that? It’s very dangerous — that’s the bottom line.”

With summer in full swing, the OPP in Southwestern Ontario issue daily media releases about drivers who’ve had their vehicles impounded and their licences temporarily suspended after being clocked flying down county roads and highways.

Earlier this week, a 22-year-old Belmont woman was charged with stunt driving after Middlesex OPP caught a Nissan Altima going 175 km/h on Manning Drive, a street in southwest London with a speed limit of 60 km.

The woman’s excuse? She was running late for work, police said.

But despite the near-daily news of reckless speeders, Rektor says the OPP are on track to issue fewer stunt driving charges than last year in its west region, an area that encompasses Southwestern Ontario.

So far, the OPP have charged 244 motorists with the offence, compared to 716 people in all of 2016.

Rektor credits a combination of awareness, public education and enforcement for the drop in stunt-driving charges.

“We’re talking about it more because it is such a dangerous problem,” he said.

Introduced in 2007, a stunt-driving or street-racing charge under the Highway Traffic Act automatically results in a seven-day licence suspension and vehicle impoundment. If convicted, first-time offenders face up to six months in jail, a maximum $10,000 fine, six demerit points and a licence suspension of up to two years.

The charge also includes a range of other dangerous behaviours like intentionally racing another vehicle, weaving through traffic at a high rate speed, drifting around corners or doing donuts and driving with a person in the trunk.

Legal critics have taken aim at the speeding aspect of the stunt-driving law, arguing it’s impossible to mount a defense against. At least two Ontario judges have dismissed stunt-driving charges in the past, ruling the legislation is unconstitutional.

While stunt driving is less likely to happen in cities, where speed limits are significantly lower, the high-speed behaviour still happens.

London police have laid 26 stunt-driving charges this year, down from 35 in the same time period last year.

Rektor called stunt driving “a recipe for disaster,” noting high speeds affect a driver’s ability to react.

“Anytime you’re over 50 kilometres over the posted limit, it’s extremely risky behaviour,” he said.

Offenders come in all ages, but drivers between 25 and 45 years old make up the bulk of stunt-driving charges, Rektor said.

“It doesn’t discriminate.”

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