Nfld. & Labrador

Huge drop in tickets issued by police during deadly spike on N.L. highways

The drop in the number of tickets issued coincided with a deployment of police officers to Labrador to provide security during protests at Muskrat Falls.

Speeding tickets in August down by half from the same month last year

August 2017 was a deadly month on Newfoundland highways. Numbers obtained by CBC News show a big drop in the number of tickets issued under the Highway Traffic Act. (Paula Gale/CBC)

The number of tickets issued by police patrolling Newfoundland and Labrador highways plummeted in August, while fatalities took an alarming hike, and dozens of officers were deployed to security duty at Muskrat Falls.

Figures provided by the Department of Justice through an access to information request are eye-opening.

They reveal a 40 per cent drop in the number of Highway Traffic Act tickets issued in August 2017 compared with the same month in 2016.

The RCMP handed out half as many speeding tickets in August 2017 as it did the year before. (CBC)

The August ticket total for this year was also down 26 per cent from the month before.

The breakdown shows that RCMP issued 663 tickets in August compared with 1,182 last year. The number of speeding tickets issued by the Mounties in August fell by half to 436, from 871 in August 2016.

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary numbers are also down — from 1,970 tickets last August to 1,222 in the same month this year.

The drop in tickets occurred during the height of the tourist season, with large numbers of people on the move for major concerts, festivals and sporting events.

It also coincided with a deadly period on the roadways, with 18 deaths in a span of seven weeks, all beginning in early August.

Traffic is backed up in both directions on the Trans-Canada Highway in late August following a deadly collision near Bellevue, Trinity Bay. (Alyson Samson/CBC)

Many of the collisions involved multiple fatalities, including one tragedy that claimed a family of three on the Trans-Canada Highway near Bellevue.

All these deaths were in areas patrolled by the RCMP, which deployed dozens of officers to Labrador because of security concerns over the controversial Muskrat Falls project.

Cost to public safety?

Leaves were cancelled, detachments and units — including traffic services — were stripped of personnel in order to meet the requirements in Labrador. It all came at a cost of roughly $10 million, according to Justice and Public Safety Minister Andrew Parsons.

But was there an even bigger cost for public safety?

CBC News wanted to ask the minister that question, but officials in the department said the ticket numbers are an operational issue and directed interview requests to the two police forces.

Parsons downplayed the consequences of the Labrador deployment during an interview in September, saying, "There was no linkage whatsoever between Muskrat Falls deployment and people being on the ground."

The RCMP says many factors, including distracted or aggressive driving, contribute to highway accidents. (Twitter/rcmpnl)

In a statement to CBC on Friday, RCMP Supt. Holly Turton confirmed that "a number" of officers went to Labrador on two-week deployments, including members of the traffic services unit.

In response, she said, officers from across the country were brought in to fill the gaps created by the deployments.

As for the surge in traffic deaths, she acknowledged that more needs to be done to prevent crashes, and that the RCMP is reviewing its highway enforcement strategy.

'An anomaly', says RNC

Turton also said, "The tragedies we have seen as a result of road crashes on Newfoundland and Labrador roadways are preventable and the RCMP agrees that enforcement has a key role in keeping drivers safe on our roadways."

She stressed that the behaviour of drivers is a key measurement to be considered in road safety.

"Distracted and impaired driving, the improper use of seatbelts and aggressive driving are known to be factors in almost all crashes involving fatalities and serious injury," Turton stated.

Turton did not offer an explanation as to why ticket numbers were so much lower, and repeated attempts to arrange an interview with the RCMP were not successful.

Force provided 'minimal resources' to Labrador operation

The RNC, meanwhile, described the downward shift as "an anomaly," and said the force provided "minimal resources" to the operation in Labrador.

"Any number of factors could create variances month over month or year over year for the number of summary offence tickets that are given out and we believe that August of 2017 is an anomaly," the RNC wrote in a statement.

The RNC also reported a 10 per cent decline in motor vehicle collisions during the first three quarters of 2017.

"Improving highway traffic safety continues to be a top priority for the RNC," the statement reads.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Terry Roberts is a journalist with CBC's bureau in St. John's.

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