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Police cracking down on speeders taking 'wrong advantage' of empty streets during COVID-19 pandemic
OTTAWA -- Traffic levels are down across the board in Ottawa, as many people stay home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While it may seem like an easier time for traffic cops, Ottawa Police say they have another issue on their hands: speeders taking advantage of the empty roads.
A new, three-month traffic blitz police are calling "Operation Overwatch" begins this week. The goal is to monitor the roads more closely, keeping an eye out for drivers who blow past the speed limit, with a specific focus on stunt driving. Frontline officers will assist the traffic unit in watching for speeding drivers whenever possible.
Sgt. Mark Gatien, with the Ottawa Police Traffic Unit, tells CTV News stunt driving charges are up more than 300 per cent compared to the same time last year.
"If you look at when the pandemic began, about mid-March to now, last year we had 18 stunt charges. This year, in the same time frame, we have 65," Gatien said.
It's a level Gatien says he's never seen before.
"We've stopped people going 50, 60, 65 over the limit," he said.
Under the Highway Traffic Act, a stunt driving charge--for going 50 km/h or more over the speed limit--can lead to licence suspension, vehicle impoundment and a court date. Upon conviction, first-time offenders face a minimum $2000 fine.
Gatien says the numbers he's seeing are just a fraction of what may be out there, because several traffic unit officers have been reassigned to bolster patrols during the pandemic. Sources tell CTV News around 75 per cent of the traffic unit has been moved to patrols.
The total number of speeding infractions is down year-over-year, but Gatien attributes that, in part, to having fewer traffic police available for enforcement.
The new three-month blitz will see frontline officers who aren't responding to any particular calls assist in traffic monitoring whenever they can.
"If it's slow, they can go down to the little racetracks they know and just keep an eye out," Gatien said.
Some of the most notorious streets for speeding include Limebank Road, Highway 174, the Blackburn Hamlet Bypass, and Eagleson Road, but Gatien says they're seeing cases of drivers going well over the speed limit across the city.
He says people from all walks of life have been caught speeding recently.
"At first, we thought it might just be the young adults, but no, it's anywhere from young adults to people up to 60 years old that we've stopped," Gatien said. "It doesn't matter age, male or female, all kinds of people are taking the wrong advantage of empty streets."
Police say speed limits apply no matter how many cars are on the road.
Gatien says the risks go far beyond being caught and fined.
"At excessive speeds, even a single-vehicle collision can result in severe injuries," he said. "There's also the risk of involving others in a collision that should never have happened."
Gatien says while there have been no cases of drivers losing control and crashing into homes so far during the pandemic, it has happened in Ottawa before and the possibility remains a concern.
Other police forces have noticed an increase in speeding since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
OPP in Renfrew County say handed out 14 stunt driving tickets last month.