Toronto

GTA police struggle to put a dent in stunt driving as complaints rise during the pandemic

Police in the GTA say there's been a major spike in stunt-driving offences since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down much of the economy and traffic on area roads thinned out. They say they're cracking down but some residents don't see police making much of a dent in the problem.

357% increase in stunt driving in Toronto between March and June, police say

Peel police pull over a driver for speeding and other charges. Police across the Greater Toronto Area have seen a spike in dangerous driving since March. (Jeremy Cohn/CBC)

Most nights all Zena Gardner can hear from her window is engines blaring and tires screeching.

Her home overlooks the Don Valley Parkway and stunt driving has always been an issue in her area, but with streets emptier than usual because of the pandemic, the noise has become a nearly nightly occurrence. 

"It's like having a Boeing 747 in your bedroom. It jolts you out of sleep," said Gardner. 

She's not the only one hearing vehicles zooming by at top speeds. Since mid-March, complaints about street racing and stunt driving have increased, police say. 

The Ontario Provincial Police charged hundreds of drivers weekly between the months of March and June. 

"When the pandemic hit, we had a lot of driving complaints coming in. Not just at night, but during the day," said Sgt. Kerry Schmidt, spokesperson for the OPP Highway Safety Division. 

York police crack down

In Toronto, there was a 357-per-cent increase in stunt driving charges between mid-March to the end of June compared to the same time last year.

The Toronto Police Service has issued 443 racing and/or stunt driving tickets during that time, which is nearly 350 more tickets than they gave out during those months in 2019. 

York Regional Police cracked down on organized street racing in July. Officers targeted locations known for gatherings of drivers with modified vehicles and organized street races. What they found was hordes of vehicles gathering, some facing off against each other. 

The operation, called Project Dragnet, resulted in 13 arrests, 20 stunt driving charges and 116 offences related to illegal car equipment. 

Helicopter captures street racing

The term stunt driving covers a variety of offences. Primarily, it's driving 50 km/h over the speed limit or 150 km/h on any street or highway anywhere in the province. It also means drifting or having someone hanging onto the outside of a moving vehicle. 

It can lead to a seven day licence suspension, having your vehicle impounded for seven days and multiple fines. 

On Aug. 9, a York Regional Police helicopter spotted a car going 186 km/h on Highway 400.

When officers tracked down the car they arrested the driver and found his girlfriend, who was seven months pregnant, inside.  

In Peel Region, stunt driving has also been an issue. There has been a 26-per-cent increase in stunt driving charges between March and August compared to the same time frame last year.

Drivers dispersed when Peel Regional Police arrived at an organized street race last weekend. (Jeremy Cohn/CBC)
 

A CBC Toronto cameraman followed Peel Regional Police last weekend to a drag race. When officers arrived cars dispersed. 

"We've issued so many tickets since May," said Peel Regional Police Const. Donna Maurice. "We just hope the public is aware of what we're doing."

Speed-related deaths remain high 

Even though the OPP say they've issued fewer stunt driving tickets in July and August as reopening has led to more traffic on the roads, speed-related deaths remain high. 

On the highways, speeding is still the leading cause of death, says Schmidt. 

"We've already had 31 speed-related deaths in the province."

Gardner says she and other residents in her area have complained to the police about the dangerous driving they've witnessed, but most of the time she says they feel like nothing is done. 

"We call the non-emergency line and they tell us to call 311. When we call 311 they tell us to call police. It's a vicious circle," she said. 

But police in Toronto and surrounding regions say they have been cracking down. With more traffic back on the roads there have been fewer calls. 

Gardner says she and others have complained to the mayor and want speeding cameras installed throughout the area. 

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