Judge and Jury

January 1 2008

There has been a lot of talk and media coverage regarding Ontario Highway Traffic Act Regulation 455/07 that has been put in place for good reason, simply stated, to put an end to street racing and stunting. Street racing has cost many lives over the years, both to the race participants and to the general public.

The law states, among many other things, that driving your vehicle 50 km over the posted speed limit is reason for immediate, on-the-spot loss of license for seven days, the vehicle be impounded immediately and may receive a minimum fine of $2,000. The fine pales in comparison to the insurance increase for the next number of years the driver will face.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t agree with street racing, or stunting in public, and I believe that 50 km over the posted speed limit is too fast for public roads. For those who wish to race, go to a racetrack. A track is a controlled environment, the street is not.

What I do have a problem with is the power that is given to the police on the side of the road. The officer is judge and jury without you being given the chance to defend yourself in court. I’m sure the officer is not obliged to hear your plea before writing the ticket and calling the tow truck to have your wheels picked up.

Let me give you a couple scenarios of how this stunting law can be bad for the law-abiding citizen.

You have been riding your motorcycle for three hours and your butt is beginning to burn so you stand up on the pegs for a few seconds to get some blood flowing to your rear-end. Most people with a general purpose, or sport-touring bike with the footpegs below the seat can attest that this scenario is an honest occurrence. I for one have raised my butt off the seat for this reason in the past. Not once have I been ‘stunting’.

Or say you are riding down the road and a chunk of wood or a tire is in your direct path. You have no room or time to go around it so you lift your body off the seat to lighten the suspension and to use your legs and arms as shock absorbers as you prepare for impact.

In both of these instances you could be charged with ‘stunting’ under Regulation 455/07 of the Ontario HTA. There has been at least one case of a rider being charged while his rear-end is not on the seat but I don’t know the circumstances surrounding this incident. Maybe the officer will take the time for you to explain your situation, but what if the officer doesn’t want to listen to you. This regulation offers no leniency. If you are caught committing any infraction to this law, you are charged with it, no breaks will be given.

Another case that hits a bit closer to home happened to a good friend’s son one night as he left his parents house in the country to go back to his grandparent’s home where he was staying during the school year. My friend’s son is 18, a new driver who has saved his money to fix-up a used car and managed to save even more money to ante up for insurance that an 18-year-old new driver has to pay. He’s a good kid who is staying in high school, always has a part-time job or two, and is pursuing university next year. Sure, he still has a lot to learn as far as driving experience goes and he has repeatedly heard about impaired drivers and road rage incidents.

Pulling out of his parents driveway, he noticed a car down the road but it was far enough away for him to safely pull out as normal. The car proceeded to get closer and closer and did not seem to let off; my friend’s son didn’t know what to do. In no time the car was right behind him, ‘pushing’ him, or so he felt. The road is narrow with deep ditches on either side and he said the car seemed so close to him that if he put the brakes on, the car might hit him. My friend’s son panicked, thinking about road rage incidents and impaired drivers. He didn’t know what else to do except to get out of the way by speeding up until he came to a safe place to pull over at the next intersection.

It was only 8:00 p.m. on a Sunday evening, but totally dark outside. The young man didn’t realize it was a police car behind him until he was 50 km over the limit, at which point the lights came on. He lost his license for 7 days, had his car impounded, which he had to pay dearly to get back. As for future insurance costs, let’s not even go there.

I was not in the car with him and I’m telling the story as told by his family. He’s a good kid and I have no reason to doubt him and believe that he felt the police officer was ‘pushing’ him to do this. Was it necessary for the cruiser lights not to be turned on until he hit 50 km over? I don’t know if the officer let my friend’s son explain how he felt; that he was scared and didn’t know how to react when put in this position, but did what he felt safest?

I fully agree that racing and stunting is not appropriate actions for public roads and that something needs to be done about the carnage that racing causes. I don’t know what the answer is, but is having the power to be judge and jury on the spot really part of a democratic system? What’s next? Aren’t we innocent until proven guilty? You be the judge.

RIP Evel Knievel

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