Local politicians and advocates for increasing the safety of Highway 6 on the Bruce Peninsula are applauding the province’s proposal to introduce tougher penalties for stunt driving.
The Moving Ontarians More Safely (MOMS) Act, introduced this week at Queen’s Park, would increase both the automatic vehicle impoundment and driver’s licence suspension periods for motorists caught stunt driving – travelling 50 kilometres per hour or more above the posted speed limit.
“I think it’s going to send a huge message not to do this,” said Francesca Dobbyn, co-chair of the Southwest Regional Road Safety Committee.
“We’re quite pleased. It’s what we’ve been asking for – harsher penalties on stunt driving.”
Terry Bell, chair of Bruce Peninsula Safe Communities, said he’s happy to see the province cracking down even more on stunt driving, calling the proposed legislation a step in the right direction.
“So far, we haven’t had great success with slowing people down, so maybe this legislation will be the tool that we need for that to happen,” said Bell, a South Bruce Peninsula councillor and retired OPP constable.
Under the MOMS Act, which is open for public comment until May 26, drivers nabbed for stunt driving would have their licence suspended at the roadside for 30 days and their vehicle impounded for 14 days. The current licence suspension and impoundment periods are both seven days.
Dobbyn said those changes will serve as more of a deterrent, especially for drivers who may, for example, be heading to a cottage on the Bruce Peninsula for one week.
“I think two weeks is pretty intense. Losing your licence for 30 days is pretty intense,” said Dobbyn, who’s also secretary of Bruce Peninsula Safe Communities and executive director of the United Way of Bruce Grey.
The Act also proposes escalating licence suspensions for drivers convicted of stunt driving. They include lifetime suspensions for third and subsequent convictions.
No changes are proposed to the fines, which are a minimum of $2,000, up to $10,000.
South Bruce Peninsula Mayor Janice Jackson, who’s also Bruce County’s warden, said she’s had two meetings with Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney to call for tougher stunt driving penalties.
“I’m very happy with this new legislation and hope it further acts as a deterrent,” she said.
But she said she’d like to see the province go “one step further” by tripling the fines.
“Many stunt drivers use rental cars, so they don’t care about impoundment. But hit them hard in the pocketbook and they might think twice,” she said.
Northern Bruce Peninsula Mayor Milt McIver said residents have grown increasingly concerned about the behaviour of motorists on Highway 6, noting he’s heard stories of locals being forced off the road by erratic drivers.
“Anything to improve the safety of our highway is certainly welcome news for us here. We seem to have our fair share of stunt driving, no question,” he said.
Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound Progressive Conservative MPP Bill Walker said he believes local efforts to bring attention to and address stunt driving concerns on the Bruce Peninsula played a “key role” in seeing the proposed legislation tabled.
Walker said he’s brought local concerns to the minister’s attention and also credited the work of Bruce Peninsula Safe Communities.
“I’m very supportive of this legislation. From the day that all of this started to happen and we were seeing it unfold, sadly, in our own backyard, I’ve been a big believer in harsher penalties – making sure that the consequences are much more significant so that hopefully that will help deter some of these people taking such big chances with other people’s lives,” he said.
The MOMS Act also proposes a lower speed threshold for stunt driving on roads with limits under 80 km/h. Drivers travelling 40 km/h over the speed limit on those roads would be charged with the offence.
Dobbyn said that change would also be welcomed on the Bruce Peninsula where some communities along Highway 6 have lower speed limits.
She said a SpeedSpy, which records the dates, times and speeds of passing vehicles, was placed at Ferndale – a Community Safety Zone where the speed limit drops to 60 km/h – in the summer of 2018.
Of the 35,000 vehicles that passed the device, 20,000 were travelling above the speed limit, she said, and more than 5,000 of those vehicles were doing above 86 km/h.
“For areas, especially rural communities where there’s big stretches of highway and then there’s a village and the speed limit drops, going to stunt driving at 40 km over and not 50 is going to be really impactful for the safety of those communities,” she said.
Organized efforts to improve the safety of Highway 6 between Wiarton and Tobermory began in 2017 after a collision claimed three lives that August near Miller Lake Road. Excessive speed was a factor.
A Facebook page called Let’s Fix Hwy 6 was created and, later, Bruce Peninsula Safe Communities began holding public meetings to discuss ways to crack down on stunt driving, which continues to be a problem on the peninsula.
A dozen people were charged with the offence between Wiarton and Tobermory in 2016 and that number rose to 43 in 2017, 130 in 2018 and 191 in 2019.
Of the 333 drivers charged with stunt driving across Grey-Bruce last year, 221 were clocked and pulled over on the region’s most northerly stretch of Highway 6.
This year, the Regional Road Safety Committee formed in response to the Bruce Peninsula group’s work, with a goal of tackling stunt driving province-wide.
The committee, which includes representatives from the MTO, police services, health units, trauma centres and counties, launched a campaign to raise awareness about the financial consequences of stunt driving.