Quick left turn on green? You’re stunting.

Designed to give dangerous drivers a time-out, stunting law covers more than you might think

BY DAVE BURKET, The VOICE

Last week a Fenwick man was charged with stunting for doing 165 k/ph in an 80 k/ph zone. Over the weekend we learned that a 74-year-old woman in Kingston was similarly charged for doing 135 k/ph in an 80 k/ph zone. And in this week’s paper comes the news that a Thorold driver was charged with stunting on Saturday for carrying a passenger in the trunk.

Beyond these actions being obviously ill-advised, we got to wondering. What else is considered stunting, and what are the consequences of being charged with it?

Speeding tickets are the most commonly laid charges under the Ontario Highway Traffic Act. In 2015, the last year for which statistics are available, the Niagara Regional Police Service says that it issued 16,307 speeding tickets in the whole of Niagara. Drivers in 3 District, which covers Welland and Pelham, earned 3,629 Highway Traffic Act citations, which include offenses such as running red lights and illegal turns, in addition to speeding.

Mostly in reaction to street-racing, the province introduced a new catch-all offense calling stunt driving in 2007. The most striking aspect of the law was that traffic police were suddenly made judge, jury and executioner. Whether you thought that this was a good or bad idea probably mirrored whether you thought that the Highway Traffic Act was too lenient or too draconian.

The law survived a 2010 challenge in front of the Ontario Court of Appeal, so any convicted stunters hoping to squirm through a legal loophole had better concentrate instead on proper bicycle tire inflation, since they’ll be without a vehicle for awhile.

What’s considered stunt driving? What isn’t might be a shorter list.

Broadly put, stunting is defined as aggressive driving in such a way that prevents another vehicle from passing, intentionally cutting off another vehicle, or intentionally driving too close to another vehicle, pedestrian or fixed object. Classic road rage offenses, in other words.

Beyond the headline-grabbing 50 k/ph-over-the-limit violation, here are a few more specific offenses that will see you walking home: Driving while not sitting in the driver seat (no steering the wheel with your feet while poking your head through the sunroof like a prairie dog); driving with a living person stored in the trunk (a corpse would at least exempt you from the stunting charge, though probably not from a rigorous roadside chat); driving in an oncoming lane for longer than is reasonably necessary to pass; lifting any tire from the road (popping wheelies); deliberately causing a tire to lose traction (peeling out, skidding, drifting; judging by the skid marks, it’s a wonder that half of rural Pelham isn’t charged with stunting at any given time); and jumping into a left turn at a green light before oncoming traffic can proceed (even if the opposite driver is sitting there texting, oblivious to the light change).

The penalties? They are instant and not at police discretion.

The law was written such that on a stunting charge, police shall, not may, immediately impound the driver’s vehicle for seven days.

This applies no matter who owns the vehicle—whether it’s yours, your cousin’s, your employer’s, or Hertz. Immediately means handing over the keys right there at the side of the road. You’ll pay the towing charge.

You wouldn’t be able to drive on anyway, since the law also requires the immediate, seven-day suspension of your driver’s license. To get it back, you’ll need to fork over $180 at your local Service Ontario office.

Fines start at $2,000 and rocket to $10,000, and six months in jail and up to a two-year driving ban are also at the judge’s discretion when you make your court appearance.

Expect your insurance company to notice the addition of up to six demerit points on your record, which they’ll likely respond to by inviting you to find insurance coverage elsewhere. That’s because some companies don’t even offer insurance once a driver has earned a major conviction.

A local insurance agent, who preferred to remain unnamed for this story, told the Voice that there are three categories of convictions: minor, major, and criminal. Stunting is a major conviction.

“Anything in the criminal or major categories would most likely send the person looking for a ‘high-risk’ insurance company,” said the agent.  “In other words, most ‘standard market’ companies will disqualify a prospective client with a criminal or major conviction.”

The agent’s company operates solely in the standard market, and doesn’t even have a rate available for stunting.

“I honestly don’t know what a stunting rate would be,” he said.  “Although the stunting conviction would have a major impact, the age and/or driving experience of the driver may also be significant.”

The cost of insurance will be a moot point if you’re convicted for stunting again within 10 years, since this can result in a 10-year license suspension at the court’s discretion. Prepare to enjoy Pelham Transit’s short bus.

No doubt many Pelham drivers nurse pet-peeves about the speed limits on certain roads, particularly out in rural areas. Enforcement is sporadic. The temptation to cruise well over the posted limit is constant and the odds of getting nabbed, it seems, are low.

But then along comes a RIDE check, and suddenly it’s you in the backseat of a cruiser, dreading how this will go down with your spouse or parents.

The odds eventually have a way of catching up in life. Call it car karma.

About the Author

The Voice of Pelham
Pelham's independent news source from the heart of Niagara.