Category Archives: law enforcement

Motorcycles and Religious Freedom

I find whenever there’s a ‘Muslim headscarf’ story unavailable for public outrage a ‘Sikh Turban’ story invariably appears.
This time it’s a Brampton motorcyclist who was ticketed for not wearing a helmet, which, as a Sikh, he challenged as a violation of his religious beliefs to wear a turban at all times. I dunno, last I checked, riding motorcycles wasn’t integral to any religion (remember that ‘Zen’ book was about motorcycle maintenance, not riding per se 😉

Of course, he could always move to New Hampshire with it’s Live Free or Die motto.  According an article in an Indian publication, though oddly enough not mentioned in any Canadian one, turbans may already be worn in lieu of helmets in BC and Manitoba.

The usual arguments for mandatory helmets come down to the usual safety concerns, as well as taxpayers’ money for health costs and so on. At the same time, there is an ongoing serious lack of organ donors.

Since motorcyclists refusing to wear helmets harm nobody but themselves, I don’t think this should be an issue of religious freedom at all. If people don’t want to wear a helmet, that’s their prerogative. Just make them sign an organ donor card first.

Ontario highway carnage – getting worse… but why?

If you get the sense that there are more fatal accidents on Ontario 400 series highways this year than in recent memory you’d be correct. It’s not just seasonal media alarmism.

As of September 1, according to the Ontario Provincial Police, over 1300 people have died on the highways they patrol, up by nearly 300 over the year before.

Seeing as how the wreckage of pretty much every car crash around the GTA ends up the lead story on CP24, the escalating carnage certainly isn’t due to a lack of public awareness that bad driving can result in fatalities.

It’s not simply speeding either, though high speeds are directly proportional to the amount of damage done if there is a crash. If everyone is going fast but otherwise obeying the rules of the road there’s rarely a problem. The big problem is in driving significantly faster than anyone else, inattention and making utterly bone-headed lane changes.

We all see them. ‘That idiot’ who uses the 403 like it’s their personal nascar track, who races up to the nearest car in front of them even when there’s obviously nowhere for them to go. The SUV driver who veers across three lanes without signaling, missing other cars by mere inches. The ‘road-ragers’ who just have to settle scores with someone who might of cut them off ten miles back. The twit too busy yakking on their cell phone to notice they’re going 20K under the speed limit.

I often wonder what goes on in the heads of these people, if anything. Do they just think they’re invincible? That they’re such highly skilled drivers that they can drive however they see fit and nothing will happen? Are they suicidal? Or are they fatalistic, believing in an afterlife and therefore they don’t care what happens as a result of their actions?

Maybe they are just that arrogant.

As a result there’s been renewed calls for seriously flawed systems such as photo radar to automatically ticket drivers going over a particular speed. I don’t blame the police for getting a bit desperate. But I don’t think it’s a good solution either.

The way some people drive leaves a lot of others shaking their heads wondering how they got their license. Maybe they’ve had it taken away, or maybe they never did get their license to begin with.

An estimated 10 per cent of all drivers are not fit to drive. Legally, that is. In Nova Scotia, for example, there’s an estimated 10,000 unlicensed drivers on the roads there, including 1,000 drivers who’s licenses have been suspended. And the rate in Nova Scotia is most likely lower than in other provinces. One AAA study estimates that as many as 70% of of drivers who’ve had their license revoked continue to drive regardless. Such drivers, I suspect, probably make up the bulk of ‘hit-and-run’ accidents too.

I’ve often wondered at the genuine success rate for graduated licensing programmes. They’ve had one in Ontario for roughly ten years now, yet I don’t recall ever hearing of a study bragging about its success rate. Knowing how governments operate, if the program had been a success there would have been some study bragging about it by now. I often wonder that by making it harder to get a license that some people just don’t bother getting one at all. Unlicensed drivers are more dangerous, statistically, though it’s not something that gets a lot of media coverage.

Overall, the number of drivers considered to be dangerous and driving without licenses is less than one per cent of total drivers. However, if you have one in one hundred people who are known dangerous drivers on a road with 15,000 people*, that’s 150 really potentially lethal drivers that you’re sharing a highway with at any given hour. And those are just the ones without good lawyers or lenient judges.

Let’s face it: it’s pretty rare that someone gets convicted of much of anything if it’s their first legal offense, and it’s even rarer that someone is caught the first time they’ve violated any law. See http://www.defencelaw.com/careless-driving.html. A lot of people see traffic charges and tickets as something to fight tooth and nail to avoid demerit points and higher insurance premiums rather than as a warning to drive better next time.

Suspending someone’s license if they’ve been busted for dangerous or drunk driving has never made sense to me. What’s to stop them from still driving? It certainly didn’t stop this kid not only from driving but from racing nine days after he’d been convicted of killing – yes, KILLING – three people. Sorry, if you’re responsible for the deaths of three people you belong in jail for the rest of your life.

People who have already driven recklessly enough to get a conviction have already demonstrated a disregard for the law. Merely removing a legal privilege isn’t going to do that much. Paris Hilton’s violation of that condition, is only the most famous example, and by all accounts she actually was more harshly penalized for that particular infraction, than the average person would have been. The reality is that people who ignore laws that tell them not to speed dangerously or drive drunk aren’t all of a sudden going to be obedient when told not to drive at all. Especially when their car is just sitting there in their driveway.

It’s always struck me that the sensible thing to do for someone who’s been convicted of drunk driving or dangerous driving is to take their car away. Sure, they might buy another car or borrow one. Take that one too, if they’re caught. Cars aren’t that cheap and there’s only so many that someone is going to buy before they give it up. According to the Traffic Injury Research Foundation, 90% of drunk drivers are the same core group offending over and over and over and over again.

The other thing is that for driving offenses that result in death, the penalties need to be a *lot* stiffer than they are now. I’m so tired of reading articles of people who’ve killed someone and it turns out they have dozens of prior convictions, or they’ve killed someone street racing and have managed to get away with suspended sentences and a couple of years probation. The deterrents obviously aren’t strong enough. You know things are wrong when a driver facing 2.5 years for killing a friend is considered an ‘unusually tough’ sentence.

The problem with things like photo radar is that everyone is targeted. And a snapshot of a license doesn’t prove who was driving the car at the time. The reality is that with any type of crime, there is a hard core contingent of offenders that needs to be dealt with appropriately. Although the fines in Ontario for street racing are now up to $10,000, it’s irrelevant if judges don’t enforce those penalties. After all, stiffer sentences have a limited overall deterrent effect – it’s the probability of getting caught and punished that provides the strongest disincentive. The additional problem is that when new laws are brought in, such as charges for street racing as opposed to just dangerous driving, then the focus turns to whether an offender was actually racing or not, rather than the end result of their actions, such as a crashed car or the death of an innocent bystander.

For example, Tahir Khan was killed by two teens who were allegedly street racing. There’s no disputing that the car one of them drove crashed into his car and killed him. Or that they were driving faster than the posted limit. But they got off with no jail time any way as the judge rejected arguments that they’d been racing. Of course, the victim is just as dead.

And if a teenager can afford a Mercedes, they can probably afford lawyers that will see they get off pretty easily. The case was well-publicized and they’ve each received a four-year driving ban. One wonders if the driving ban would have been longer if they’d been driving juiced up Honda Civics instead of luxury cars. Yeah, that’s a deterrent all right. The real message to all other speeders out there is that even if you kill someone you won’t necessarily have to face any jail time or any real penalties.

One OPP spokesman said he didn’t know of a single convicted street racer who faced more than five months in jail. However, though the subject of a lot of media attention, ‘street-racing’ has been attributed to an annual average 37 deaths in Ontario versus an overall tally of over 900. Focusing on street racing alone won’t make much of a dent in overall numbers when the real problem is sheer arrogance and stupidity and a lack of serious deterrents for any form of reckless driving.

Some people argue that dangerous drivers do get punished since their insurance rates go up. That’s assuming they actually have insurance at all. The Insurance Bureau of Canada estimates that roughly 15% of all drivers in Ontario may not have any coverage. Police in various cities have estimated it could be as high as a quarter. I’m going out on a limb here, but I think the odds are pretty good that the uninsured drivers aren’t likely candidates for ‘Grey Power’.

I found one article that purported to be an ’empirical study’ and claimed stricter penalties do not deter drinking and driving. However, the ‘stricter’ penalties were limited to minor increases in license suspension durations and fines rather than genuinely punitive measures like jail time. A lot of people successfully fight traffic tickets and get off of charges simply by showing up to court. Of course that’s not going to deter anything. ‘Up to’ penalties listed in some press release mean nothing if they aren’t used.
At the end of the day though, a person cannot drive drunk or dangerously or at top speed if they don’t have a car. But short of extended jail terms no other penalty is likely to hold. If people are convicted of a traffic offense that results in someone’s death or severe long term ability, or if someone is caught driving with a suspended license or no license at all, the car should be taken away. End of story.

*15,000 vehicles per hour is a reasonable estimate for a fairly busy 400 series highway, if 25,500 per hour is the record. The busiest road in the world is I-405 in California. It has a peak-hour volume of 25500 vehicles on a 1.5km (0.9 miles) stretch between Garden Grove Freeway and Seal Beach Boulevard. (From Guinness Book of Records) Highway 401 has volumes of over 500,000 per day in some areas of Toronto.