Speeding and street racing have risen sharply in communities across Canada since highways and other roads became less busy in the wake of COVID-19.

Figures from the Toronto Police show a 600 per cent jump in stunt driving (mostly excessive speeding) incidents between March 23 and April 27 of 2020, from just 32 in 2019 to 222 during the same time period this year. The numbers have kept rising since then, not only in Toronto but in other major cities and smaller communities.

Life-threatening behaviour

These dangerous behaviours put pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers at risk, and it's a problem that's only going to get worse now that emergency measures are being slowly pulled back and traffic is gradually increasing.

This type of driving behaviour is extremely risky, noted Ken Lindhardsen, Vice-President of Accident Benefits and Bodily Injury for Desjardins Insurance.

"Because of my job, I see first-hand the physical and psychological impact that excessive speeding and the resulting collisions have on our clients. There is a clear link between excessive speeding and injuries and deaths."

Lindhardsen was speaking as a panelist on a recent webinar on "Speeding and road safety during COVID-19," organized by Parachute, a national charity focused on injury prevention. The other panelists included a road safety expert from the Ontario Provincial Police, a scientist with the Institute for Mental Health Policy Research at CAMH, and a product planning manager with Volvo Canada.

Financial deterrents

In addition to risking serious injury or death, street racers and other stunt drivers can also pay a big price financially.

"Speeding can have a significant impact on your insurance premiums, depending on the degree of speed," said Lindhardsen. "For minor offenses, it could mean an increase in your insurance rates. A conviction for excessive speed, street racing or another form of stunt driving could mean that your insurer would cancel or refuse to renew your policy. In that case, you would have to go to a high-risk insurer, or the Facility Association in Ontario, which could mean a huge increase in premiums for the next three years or more."

That could be in addition to a fine ranging from $2,000 to $10,000 in Ontario, a possible suspension of your driver's licence for up to two years, and a potential prison sentence.

Despite the financial and legal implications, street racers seem unable to resist the near-empty roads offered by the pandemic lockdown.

On the recent long weekend, for example, York Regional Police charged 30 drivers and impounded their vehicles after they were caught driving 50 km/h or more over the speed limit. Not to be outdone, a 19-year-old-male was pulled over and charged with stunt driving after he was caught driving a breathtaking 308 kilometres per hour on a highway in Burlington, west of Toronto.

Changing behaviour

Lindhardsen said there are no easy answers to end stunt driving but changing mindsets and behaviours through education and awareness are key.

"We have to help the drivers understand the implications and the consequence of what can happen when they drive inappropriately - the legal implications, the financial implications and, most importantly, the societal impacts of their actions in terms of injuries and loss of life.

"The better job we can do helping them understand those issues, the more we will change behaviour and save lives as a result."

This was the third in a series of webinars organized by Parachute, a Desjardins partner, examining the impact of Covid-19 on road safety. All three webinars were recorded and are available on YouTube:

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