Police plead with drivers to slow down after spike in traffic fatalities
Published Wednesday, May 13, 2020 1:18PM EDT Last Updated Wednesday, May 13, 2020 1:21PM EDT
SUDBURY -- Police are pleading with drivers to exhibit better behaviour behind the wheel as more people are dying on the roads during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Even with far less traffic because of the pandemic, police are seeing a spike in the number of fatalities. The Ontario Provincial Police has already dealt with 63 fatal collisions so far this year, compared to 57 in 2019.
While all types of collisions have increased, one of the biggest jumps is distracted driving charges, which are up an incredible 300 per cent compared to this time last year.
"Unfortunately, our regional numbers mirror that of the province," said OPP Sgt. Carlo Berardi. "Between Jan. 1, 2020, and May 1, we've had seven fatalities, where last year we only had two.
"When we say distracted driving, we mean inattentive driving. We're not saying solely your cellphone, but if there's something else going on in the vehicle -- if you're changing the radio station, if you're grabbing a cup of coffee or saying something to someone in the back of the vehicle -- those are things that cause inattentiveness and you should be focused on your driving."
A total of 335 people died on OPP-patrolled roads in 2019. Officers also responded to 74,771 collisions, marking a five-year high for the provincial police force.
In Sudbury, the numbers aren't much better.
Based on the latest figures, Greater Sudbury Police say collisions are down, but they have still been busy. The traffic management unit has so far responded to three fatalities in the city. The majority of the crashes they're seeing involve alcohol, prescription drugs or a combination of both.
"In the first few months ... there was an increase to the traffic management unit," said Sgt. Tim Burtt. "Unfortunately, in terms of enforcement numbers, they were about half of what they were for the entire year last year.
"To us, that was concerning because of the speeds involved. They're increasing. We're getting more stunt driving, we're getting more aggressive driving."
Burtt said they are seeing more aggressive driving because, with fewer vehicles on the road, some drivers are looking to "open it up" and drive much faster than normal.
"We see these articles all the time -- 200 kilometres an hour, 300 kilometres an hour -- those are speeds that weren't meant for our highways," he said. "They're meant for raceways, whether you're in NASCAR or IRL or any time of racing series out there, those are trained professionals."
Police in Sudbury are seeing the increase in aggressive and stunt driving after expanding its Traffic Management Unit at the start of the year.
Const. Devin Weber is one of the newest members of the unit, who has been working as a drug recognition expert. He's seen people impaired by alcohol, marijuana, meth -- even Fentanyl -- while behind the wheel.
"From what I've seen this year, I've found that it's fluctuated more towards the impaired by drugs side," said Weber. "In past years, I've done several impaired investigations and this year I'm seeing more impaired by drug and alcohol -- both as a breath-tech and a DRE investigating officer. So it's concerning.
"I think the biggest thing is people think they can get away with it. When you see people addicted to drugs, such as heroin or Fentanyl, they're on a maintenance dose."
Weber has so far arrested 13 people for impaired driving, completed six drug recognition evaluations and completed three breath tests, all high numbers in his book.
"Be safe and take the time in getting where you have to go," he said. "Don't focus on your cellphone, don't speed … Two of the biggest things I'm catching this year are people on cellphones and people speeding and aggressive driving. I've seen an increase in tailgating and careless driving, for sure."
This year's theme for Road Safety Week is Shifting Gears, a clever pun officers hope will entice drivers to maybe think about and change problematic behaviour while behind the wheel.