Traffic volumes have plummeted in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. While one might expect that this would cause accidents and unsafe driving to drop as well, police reports show just the opposite.
In fact, incidents of stunt driving in Ontario have jumped 200 percent!
But what is stunting, exactly? What are the penalties associated with it? Here are the facts.
While many residents are aware of the problem Ontario stunt driving presents, there is a general lack of clarity around what constitutes stunts in Canada.
Legally, stunt driving is “an offence listed in section 172,1 of the Highway Traffic Act of Ontario" which states that "no person shall drive a motor vehicle on a roadway in a race or contest, while performing a stunt or on a bet or wager.”
Examples of behaviors that qualify for a stunt driving charge in Ontario include:
Stunt driving is believed to have increased during COVID for several reasons.
First, lockdowns have reduced the amount of traffic on many major roads. This has opened up opportunities for stunt racing on roads that previously contained too much traffic for such activities to be viable.
Second, many drivers -- particularly young ones -- no longer have to report to work or school. This creates more opportunities for them to be out engaged in reckless driving in Canada.
Third, lockdown presents these same young drivers with a lack of alternative entertainment options. This plays a role in driving them to participate in unsafe and aggressive forms of self-entertainment.
One of the most publicized recent examples of aggressive driving in Ontario was the case of 21-year-old Amidulla Baluch. On April 19, 2020, Baluch shut down the intersection of Yonge and Dundas streets in Toronto by doing a series of dangerous doughnuts in the center of the busy street.
Police were called just after 10 p.m. and gave pursuit when Baluch tried to flee the scene. Baluch was later arrested and charged with:
Another well-covered event was the April 5th incident in which crowds of onlookers gathered to watch stunt drivers in a suburb of Toronto Ontario. That incident included:
Nearly two dozen individuals were charged with a variety of criminal offenses as the result of their participation in that event.
Only a few hours earlier, police had responded to reports of nearly 100 vehicles in a shopping mall parking lot in Leaside. Leaside is an upscale neighbourhood in Toronto and typically very unlikely to house this kind of erratic behaviour. These instances are emblematic of scores of similar events that have broken out since the pandemic began.
It goes without saying that traffic racing and related activities are exceptionally dangerous. Not only to the participants involved but to other drivers, pedestrians, and property owners in the vicinity.
Dozens of people die every year from racing in Ontario and other forms of stunt driving. Others suffer severe injuries, enormous property damage, and other harsh consequences.
Even when no one is injured, stunt driving disrupts communities and reduces safety and quality of life in Canadian cities and neighborhoods.
With the upswing in stunt driving, Canadians might be forgiven for assuming that the penalties for stunt drivers must be mild. Nothing could be further from the truth, however.
Stunt drivers face a ream of potential charges, all of which carry steep penalties. For instance, drivers convicted of a stunt driving charge can face:
Under Canada's dangerous driving criminal code, anyone caught stunt driving instantly loses their license. Police suspend the driver's license on the spot for seven days.
After that period, drivers must visit the Ministry of Transportation in person to get their license reinstated. They must also pay a $180 fee for doing so.
Stunt drivers also immediately lose their vehicles. Police impound the vehicle involved in the incident for seven days. This impoundment is mandated by law.
Importantly, impounds stand regardless of whether the driver was the owner of the vehicle or not. This means that even vehicles belonging to a driver's friend, family member, or workplace will remain impounded for the full seven days.
In order for vehicles to be released, owners must pay towing and impound fees. This can often cause further trouble for stunt drivers who were not operating their own vehicles at the time of their arrest.
In addition to license reinstatement, towing, and 7-day impound fees, stunt drivers face a minimum $2,000 fine for their first offense. Fines go up with each successive arrest.
Drivers convicted of stunt driving, even on a first offense, can see their licenses suspended for as much as two years. On second or subsequent offenses, drivers can lose their licenses for as long as 10 years.
Fines for stunt driving start at $2,000 but can run as high as $10,000 for a single charge. That is twice the cost of a drunk driving charge. Drivers may also find themselves facing steep legal costs associated with their charges, depending on the circumstances.
Stunt drivers can face up to six months in jail per charge. Importantly, that penalty is specific to the stunt driving charge. Many stunt drivers also face a range of related charges which may qualify them for more fines and jail time.
Having a tarnished driving record can sound mild compared to the other penalties drivers face. Long-term, however, it can have real and severe impacts on drivers' lives.
Specifically, drivers can face prohibitively high auto insurance rates and difficulty finding anyone willing to insure them. This can impact their ability to own and operate a vehicle.
Drivers may also be excluded from some job opportunities due to their poor driving records.
A suspended license remains on a driver's record for between three and six years. Even when it no longer shows on their records, drivers are required to disclose the suspension to insurers and others.
Drivers who cause property damage, injury, or death during an incident must also face criminal charges. This can alter their lives forever and lead to hefty jail sentences, penalty fines, and other consequences.
While stunt driving itself is not a criminal charge, drivers can face both stunt driving and criminal charges depending on the situation. Stunt driving can also remain on a driver's record for two or more years, negatively impacting their life even though it is not technically a criminal offense.
Stunt driving charges can be particularly stressful for drivers caught performing "minor" maneuvers such as cutting off another driver or refusing to let another driver pass. While these infractions may be less intentional and less severe than "flashier" maneuvers like doughnuts, they can carry the same steep penalties.
As such, drivers who carelessly engaged in aggressive driving may find themselves wondering how to fight stunt driving in Ontario charges.
Nothing will exempt drivers from the immediate suspension of their licenses or the impoundment of their vehicles. However, drivers may be able to negotiate lesser charges or convince the court to drop the charges against them. This can prevent them from facing the additional fines and penalties that go with a conviction.
In most cases, this involves proving to the court that the action was an accident or momentary lapse and not an example of intentional aggressive driving. In some cases, the court may drop first-time charges if the driver completes a qualifying driver education course or another alternative penalty.
Drivers who want to fight stunt driving charges should seek the help of an attorney right away.
With all the unrest running rampant in the world right now, the last thing anyone needs is the unnecessary trauma and damage stunt driving in Ontario is prone to cause. Instead, we as a nation need to pull together and make good choices for ourselves and our communities. Learn more about community issues and find the information you need to make great choices by browsing our blog today.