Hey look at me! I'm a street racer!
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Just a slight nudge above 150 km/h and Jim Kenzie joins Fantino's Most Wanted List
Special to the Star
May 24, 2008
I am now officially a "street racer."
I went up to Dave & Buster's in Vaughan, near Highways 7 and 400. I confronted the young kids in their slammed Civics and tarted up STis, and said, "Okay, dudes, who's got a pink slip they want to put up? I got a four-year-old diesel-powered automatic transmission Volkswagen Jetta station wagon, and this silver-haired old man is ready to take on any of you. Anyone got the guts?
"That Natalie Wood look-alike can drop the hanky for me; that Christina Aguilera look-alike can drop the hanky for you."
Well, it didn't happen exactly like that.
I was cruising along with the flow of traffic on the 401 at just under 140 km/h. I thought about the recent furor generated by OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino, that anyone doing 50 over the limit is automatically a street racer, and wondered what it would be like to be a Bad Boy.
So I nudged the accelerator just a titch, and barely saw 150 on the clock.
Wow! I'm a street racer!
In a Volkswagen. Jetta. Station wagon. Diesel. Automatic.
It was so much fun that a few weeks later I tried it again, this time in a 70-hp three cylinder sub-1.0 L Smart car. Okay, so it does have a Ferrari-style Formula One paddle shifter.
And seconds after I backed off from this lofty speed, an OPP paddy wagon went flying by me – no emergency lights – as if I were painted on the pavement.
C'mon, Julian. Get a grip. You can't even convince your own employees to buy into this nonsense.
And I read recently that a cop from another jurisdiction stopped a cop in a marked cruiser, who was allegedly driving more than 50 km over the limit. So much for that "we're-all-in-this-together" theory.
We build highways that are capable of these speeds. We have cars that are capable of these speeds. There is considerable doubt we have drivers that are capable of these speeds, but until or unless you choose to do something about that, you can't keep trying to be King Canute, driving back the tides, trying to keep us from driving at these speeds.
Ontario drivers are voting with their right feet, every single day.
You are proud of the fact that Ontario has the safest highways in North America. Fair enough. And there's no doubt that we shouldn't ever be satisfied, and seek to be even better.
But this little speed vendetta of yours is a complete and utter waste of time, and of scarce police resources.
According to a recent story in the Toronto Star, as of last weekend 5,000 vehicles had been impounded by your new edict, their owners subject to massive financial penalties that will continue to accrue due to raised insurance premiums.
Has it had any effect whatsoever?
Recently, your minions stated that speed-related fatalities have been reduced by 41 per cent from last year, hinting, if not directly claiming, that the street racer law is responsible for this dramatic decrease.
Just as similar claims made to support photo radar 12 years ago proved spurious, this one stinks of statistical skulduggery too.
First, every car crash is "speed-related" to one degree or another. If nobody is moving, i.e. there is no speed, then there are no crashes – unless a stationary car falls off a bridge.
Second, a change of this magnitude to a "mature" statistic like this clearly cannot be attributed to any single intervention, and surely is an anomaly. If there is any joke about statistics, it's that two points make a straight line, three points make a trend. You barely have two points here.
Third, the police seem to still be catching "street racers" in undiminished numbers, which suggests that this intervention is not in fact slowing down many people; anyone with eyes can see the same thing on any stretch of controlled-access highway in this province.
So even if 41 per cent is a robust number, wouldn't we notice a simultaneous decrease in the number of street-racer arrests, and in average speed on the highways?
Not to mention that this procedure flies in the face of a thousand years of British common law jurisprudence, turning the cop into the judge, jury and executioner. The punishment is meted out with the alleged perpetrator never having a minute in court, let alone his day.
(By the way, if this sort of thing turns your crank, there's a petition on this very issue on the web at: petitiononline.com/civil013/.)
Ontario's good traffic safety record has been there for a long time, far longer than this recent endeavour, far longer than you, Mr. Commissioner, have even been in office, so claiming any credit for it at all is fatuous.
Ironically, these speed racer stats were also quoted in a recent Star report of a Victoria Day holiday tragedy where three young women died going approximately zero km/h, after doing a U-turn on a country road. Two apparently weren't wearing their seatbelts, a disturbing sign, but when you get T-boned by a transport truck, seatbelts aren't likely to help.
Here's my bet as to why Ontario has such good overall safety numbers: most such statistics are based on deaths-per-so-many-vehicle-kilometres travelled. It is well known that controlled-access highways are by far our safest roads, because the opportunities for T-bone or head-on crashes – by far the most dangerous type of car crash – are virtually eliminated.
How ironic, again, that highways are also by far our fastest roads.
And I'm guessing that Ontario has a higher percentage of traffic travelling on highways – 401 et al. – than just about anywhere.
Hence, better overall safety numbers. Just a guess.
Not that I am trying to make light of street racing. Okay, I am, but I am not condoning it. Sure, it is an issue, but statistically it is a very small issue.
And automatically slapping that label on anyone who goes 50 over the artificially low speed limit (20 over what I think should be the real limit) isn't going to help.
If you want to do something intelligent about speed on our highways, try following the lead of other jurisdictions that have done it successfully.
The key? Set a realistic speed limit, one that the driving public will buy into, and enforce it consistently.
Most Ontario highways can easily handle 130 km/h. They do, for hundreds of thousands of cars, every day.
So make that the limit, make sure we all know it, and apply the needed enforcement.
Geez, if they can make it work in France – and they have – why won't it work here? Surely it's worth a try.
Oh yeah, it wouldn't hurt if we could do something about our lane discipline too.
Imagine, roads that are faster, more efficient and safer!
Dare to dream, Julian. Dare to dream.
Wheels' chief auto correspondent Jim Kenzie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org