The Pandemic Brought Out the Worst in Ontario Drivers

By Lesley Green
An empty highway in the daytime.
  • Traffic tickets issued from April 2020 to March 2021 totalled 1.30 million. Slightly higher than the average usually issued of 1.29 million.
  • Stunt driving/racing tickets doubled during the pandemic.

People might have driven less during the pandemic, but when they did drive, they drove FAST!

Well now. Over the last year and a half, it would appear the pandemic brought out the worst in some Ontario drivers.

At a time when many people worked from home (and continue to do so), we were encouraged to limit driving trips to pick up just the essentials. The daily commute, for many, disappeared overnight especially when you consider many businesses were shuttered to minimize people being near each other. All of this is to say, you’d think the traffic tickets during this time would be down. Way down.

You’d be wrong. Sadly, very wrong.

The number of Highway Traffic Act tickets issued was higher than in previous years, albeit slightly. For the five years before the start of the pandemic (2015 to 2019), in a 12-month period, there were an average of 1.29 million traffic tickets issued. Fast forward to the pandemic – when everyone should have been off the roads and at home – and traffic tickets issued from April 2020 to March 2021 totalled 1.30 million.

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Speeding and stunt driving/racing charges were up in Ontario

Of the most common tickets issued and reported on, offences mostly declined during the pandemic. However, there were two notable exceptions. Apparently, when the open road awaits, and it’s virtually empty, drivers can’t resist the need for speed.

  1. Speeding tickets: In a typical 12-month period, drivers receive about 506,000 speeding tickets, on average. In the 12 months from April 2020 to March 2021, the number of tickets issued jumped to 752,935.
  2. Stunt driving/racing: Normally, police issue an average of 7,700 tickets for stunt driving or racing. During the height of the pandemic, however, police charged 13,379 with this offence.

This increase in charges is despite fewer vehicles on the road. For example, in Toronto, city staff have traffic data that confirms there were fewer drivers on the road for most of 2020:

  • Traffic congestion during the afternoon peak is nowhere near where it was the year before the pandemic. The city-wide Travel Time Index showed an average of 1.76 in 2019. This index means that travel times are 76% higher than when there are no cars on the road. During 2020, the index ranged from 1.0 (no congestion) to 1.39.
  • Using the information collected by the Watch Your Speed signs, traffic volumes ranged from 68% of what is normally noted during the afternoon peak hours (5 to 6 p.m.) to a high of 87%. Again, a considerable drop from what usually is happening on the city’s streets.
  • Traffic counting technology was also used at certain intersections in the city core. This data shows that daily car traffic ranged from 44% of typical volumes to 73% throughout 2020.

Of course, as the province’s largest city, the number of tickets handed out in Toronto mirrors the provincial trends:

  • Normally, about 58,000 speeding tickets are handed out in a 12-month period in the city, but from April 2020 to March 2021, 257,385 were issued. And not all of them were tickets from a speed camera. Yes, speed cameras sent out a lot of tickets, about 156,000, but there are still 100,000 speeding tickets issued over and above that number, of which 40,000 are still beyond the norm.
  • Stunt driving or racing doubled from an average of 500 charges a year before the pandemic to 1,062 during.

Speeding towards higher Ontario car insurance rates

Speeding tickets (not stunt driving or racing) are either a minor traffic conviction or a major. The type of classification will depend on the speed you were caught going and the posted limit. If it’s a minor ticket, it could affect your premium up to 10% the next time you go to renew. If it’s a major ticket, it could increase your auto insurance premium by as much as 25%.

Stunt driving or racing convictions are another story. There’s the auto insurance implication, sure, but there’s also the licence suspension, vehicle impoundment, fine, demerit points, and the possibility of jail time too.

Beginning July 1, 2021, drivers who are involved in stunt driving or street racing are subject to:

  • an immediate 30-day driver’s licence suspension
  • an immediate 14-day vehicle impoundment at roadside (whether it is your vehicle or not)
  • a fine of up to $10,000
  • a jail term of up to six months
  • six demerit points

There will also be a licence suspension. Until September 1, the post-conviction licence suspension will be up to two years for the first offence and up to 10 years for a second within the last decade. However, come September 1, the licence suspension penalties for stunt driving or racing will change:

  • A minimum one year and maximum three years suspension for a first conviction.
  • A minimum three years and maximum 10 years suspension for a second conviction.
  • For a third conviction, your licence is suspended indefinitely, with the possibility of having it reinstated at a later date to be determined.
  • For a fourth conviction within 10 years, your licence is suspended permanently.

Whatever happens in the days and months ahead, don’t let the temptation of the open road result in you having to pay high insurance rates for the years that follow. Keep an eye on your speedometer for safer roads and lower auto insurance rates.