A hard look at the `street racing' law
Recent passage of Bill 203 will only be a lucrative source of revenue for the government
Special to the Star
Nov 17, 2007
Ontario Bill 203 was supposed to be a proposal to combat street racing, but it's just politics at its worst.
A private member's bill was proposed in the spring of 2006 and was pretty much shot down. The bill has always included the controversial issue of "officer discretion" on whether the driver was "racing" or not.
About the only well-thought issue that 203 contained was making it illegal to run nitrous on the street. As hard as it is to imagine, before 203, it was not illegal to have a fully operational nitrous system on your street car.
With 203, the system can be in place, without the bottle connected, but if the bottle is connected, you are in trouble. Good on 203 for this: nitrous is for the drag strip, and that's where it should stay. There was no 50 km/h-over issue on the Bill 203 proposal.
The elected official who conceived many parts of 203 is Newmarket MP Frank Klees. Mr. Klees was the minister of transportation in the early part of this century.
I had an argument over the phone with Klees in the spring of 2006 when a "safer roads" bill was initially proposed. My argument was simple: the new law could sink a car enthusiast who is doing nothing wrong, other than simply driving his or her modified car.
It's because the bill negatively profiles the modified car enthusiast and gives the officer full discretion, with no due process for the accused. Pretty simple, a copper having a bad day can screw a car enthusiast simply because he chooses to. When I suggested that this will happen often if 203 becomes law, Klees told me he "could live with that."
I was relieved that the proposed bill got shot down.
But then in May 2006, the accident that killed Rob and Lisa Manchester, and which left their 8-year-old daughter an orphan, hit the headlines. This accident took place in Klees' riding. The accident was blamed on "street racers," reportedly travelling 150 km/h in an 80 km/h zone when Manchester made a left-hand turn into the path of the two "racers."
With the Manchester deaths, there was no way the government could continue to brush off 203 and Klees, and understandably so. Street racing killed two members of Klees' own riding and he was the man already pushing the proposal.
By the spring of this year, you'd have to be on another planet to not realize that 203 was going through. The media wheel was turning at full speed – every accident headline involving "speed" was replaced with "street racing."
We had Prime Minister Stephen Harper spewing the term, Premier Dalton McGuinty following suit, and (now former) attorney-general Michael Bryant was threatening to crush cars. Then OPP chief Julian Fantino chimed in with "50 km/h over is street racing," in his opinion, and he wants a plane.
By June 2007, those of us in the enthusiast community were pointing out that only 0.12 per cent of traffic deaths are related to "street racing," and "What the hell is the inspiration for these draconian proposals?" And then whammo, Bill 203 gets royal assent. And funny, just before it received assent, the 50 km/h-over penalties were added.
In an interesting feat of timing, the boys charged in the influential accident that killed the Manchesters were due for sentencing right around the time that Bill 203's provisions were to become official.
Then a few facts started coming out. The boys were not doing 150 km/h, but actually 112 km/h. Manchester was drunk, twice over the limit. The judge ruled that the boys were not street racing, and that Manchester's alcohol level was a factor.
You have to wonder how Manchester's condition was overlooked, considering his death was exploited as a result of "street racers" for 14 months. When the fact is, had Manchester lived, he would have been facing serious DUI charges. I'm sure everyone involved will claim they didn't know, but I will always be convinced that it was nothing more than politics at its worst.
I understand that, as of last week, more than 1,300 vehicles have been seized under the new legislation. I'm not sure how many were "street racing" versus driving 50 km/h-over, but at $2,000 a judgment, it seems that Fantino might have just paid for that plane he wanted. And we will all be reminded how much safer our roads are now.
Those who express shock and outrage at people brushing off 130-140-150 km/h as not being that fast in today's machinery will find that the new "street racing" legislation will morph as time goes by.
And they may express more shock and outrage when they nonchalantly coast down an 80 km/h back road on a Sunday drive, inadvertently speed up to 100 km/h as they coast down a hill and get dinged for 50 km/h over as they enter a 50 km/h zone where the OPP are hiding. They'll then get a life-altering financial burden under legislation designed to combat street racers and make roads safer.
The car enthusiast community will continue to fight this new legislation. The law leaving the officer to be judge and jury on the side of the road and levy these types of punishments violates our Charter of Rights.
Similar laws are in place in Florida, and recently a judge there ruled in a case that the "street racing" charges made at the discretion of the officer were "unconstitutional."
So it's only a matter of time before our new visionless law gets scrapped.
It's a real shame when politicians lack vision and common sense and make knee-jerk decisions based on their heart strings. It's even worse when they let law enforcement swoop in and capitalize on a potential cash cow.
It's not about making our roads safer and ridding the roads of street racers. The ERASE (Eliminate Racing Activities on Streets Everywhere) project was designed to do that.
When ERASE ran out of applicable fines for the 0.12 per cent of trouble on the road, police started hanging out at the racetrack entrances to hassle and fine drivers who were taking it to the track. Yep, the program encouraging you to take it to the track was trying to bust you when you took it to the track.
For what it's worth, along with being a car freak, I'm a 40-year-old business professional, husband and homeowner.
And I haven't had a traffic violation charge in more than 20 years. And I am mad as hell that this legislation was passed.
My late father (also an enthusiast) taught me that the roads are a dangerous place. The highways are even more dangerous. The cars I was raised around were dangerous – they could kill you in a second.
No crumple zones, no ABS, no traction control, no airbags, some had no seatbelts, and none of them had eight cupholders or GPS. I was also informed early on that I would be learning to drive with a manual gearbox.
Maybe it's time to take a step back in what we promote. I've heard some suggest that head injuries in professional hockey today could be improved if helmets were not mandatory. Pretty simple theory: you give much more respect for others' safety when you're not wrapped up in a suit of armour.
Today's roads are seriously dangerous and will not become safer. And no matter what the manufacturers tell you, the car will not save you.
Deal with it responsibly or stay off the road.