Fantino would back even tougher speeding law

The Canadian Press

TORONTO -- In just one month, more than 1,000 motorists have been charged under a tough new crackdown on speeding in Ontario - a figure that has "floored" insurance officials and left the Police Commissioner who recommended the idea wishing it were even tougher.

Effective from the start of October, anyone charged in Ontario with exceeding the speed limit by 50 kilometres an hour or more faces a barrage of harsh penalties, including a fine of between $2,000 and $10,000 and having their licence suspended and vehicle impounded for one week.

Even Police Commissioner Julian Fantino acknowledged he was shocked when he learned that 1,057 drivers had been charged as of Sunday, with an average rate of about 38 a day.

"I didn't think we'd get this many to begin with; I really thought people would heed the warning," Commissioner Fantino said yesterday.

"The only regret I have now, in hindsight, is that I didn't go after 30 over [the limit] as opposed to 50 over."

Commissioner Fantino made headlines in late June when he first mused about his idea for a tough new speeding law. Six weeks later, Ontario's Liberal government - keen to crack down on a deadly epidemic of street racing - agreed to implement it.

The maximum fine of $10,000 is the highest of its kind in Canada.

The proposal faced little resistance on the way to becoming law, since excessive speeding was viewed as a major problem, said Transportation Minister Donna Cansfield. The numbers bear that out, she added.

"This is serious; it was far more extensive than maybe people thought," Ms. Cansfield said. "People were getting away with it. Well, not any more."

In the past eight years, 39 people have been killed in Ontario in street-racing incidents. The law, billed as the toughest in the country, has other provinces looking at similar measures. Police in British Columbia already can impound vehicles involved in street racing.

Commissioner Fantino and Ms. Cansfield said they're confident the charges will stick in court and offenders will be required to pay the fines - not to mention the staggering insurance rates they're likely to face as a result of being convicted.

More than 80 per cent of those busted so far have been male, and about 50 per cent were under 27, Ms. Cansfield added.

Insurance officials were also taken aback by the figures, although they said the industry has yet to determine what kind of impact the new law will have.

"I'm floored by the numbers," said Brian Yutman, a vice-president with the Insurance Brokers Association of Ontario.

"You hear everything from kids, to middle-aged drivers, and even some seniors getting hit with this. You're seeing it hit so many people in so many areas of Ontario that I would've thought those numbers would have had a sharp downturn."

Insurance premiums of anyone convicted under the new law will increase "exponentially," even if they previously had a clean record, Mr. Yutman acknowledged. Drivers who have already run into some trouble could find it difficult to obtain insurance through the major providers, he added.

"Insurance will be available, but it becomes incredibly expensive."

If all the charges stick, the province stands to collect between $2-million and $10-million in fines from the first month alone. About a third of the charges were written up by municipal police forces, so those fines would go to the municipalities.

Ms. Cansfield said she hopes to spend the money on educational campaigns to improve road safety. Young male drivers in particular need to be targeted, she said.