Ten things you should know about driving this long weekend

Holiday traffic on the 401 highway near Oshawa, Ontario.

Brace yourself, the long weekend is coming — and drivers are about to lose their collective minds

Derek McNaughtonBy Originally published: 12 hours ago

Ahh, the May long weekend, that time of year when the whole world seems to head out of town to seek solace from the vices of urban life. But in the pursuit of peace — or just a fun party — traffic volume shoots up and many drivers lose their collective minds and patience as they hit the road to those special places.Here’s a look at some alarming stats about the long-weekend drive.

The violations

This weekend alone, the Ontario Provincial Police estimate they will lay more than 5,000 traffic violations from catching drunks, speeders, the unbelted, the aggressive, the stupid and the distracted – all of which contribute to deaths. B.C. will see an average of 1,700 crashes over the three-day holiday weekend. The RCMP in other jurisdictions will lay many more fines – proving that Victoria Day fireworks don’t just occur after dark.

The fatalities

According to an Alberta study that looked at five years worth of crash data, holiday weekends see on average an 18 per cent higher rate of fatal collisions than non-holiday weekends. As a result, police forces across the country are stepping up enforcement, surveilling not only speeders but the “big four” that contribute to highway deaths: aggressive drivers, distracted drivers, impaired drivers and those not using seatbelts. Among three of those illegal acts – impaired driving, speeding, and failure to wear a seatbelt – the non-use of seatbelts tends to be the higher of the three infractions on long weekends, according to the study, even though seatbelts worn correctly can reduce the chances of death in a collision by 47 per cent and the chances of serious injury by 52 per cent. The excuse officers usually hear is “I didn’t have time,” says Cam Woolley, a former OPP sergeant, now a reporter with news channel CP24. Instead, “they had time to get a ticket.”

In Ontario, aside from the Big Four, speeding remains a problem, says Sgt. Kerry Schmidt of the Ontario Provincial Police Highway Safety Division. Recently, he’s seen drivers reach speeds as high as 240 km/h — and have been caught using the force’s patrol plane. “Seeing people at twice and two-and-a-half times the limit is unbelievably dangerous,” he said. Last May, three children, all younger than 10 years old, were found in a Volkswagen Jetta driven by a 39-year-old Scarborough man travelling 182 km/h on Hwy. 401 in the Brighton area. He was charged with stunt driving, had his licence suspended for seven days and his car impounded.

The distractions

Driver distraction. A recent survey conducted for auto insurer ingenie of 600 Ontario students who are licensed drivers underscores the serious problem of distracted driving: three in four young drivers admitting to being distracted. Thirty-three per cent admitted to checking text or emails and 21 per cent send messages while driving. Others are fiddling with music. More than half use phones for directions and 58 per cent eat while driving. A woman talks on her phone while driving. A recent Texas study found women were 63 per cent more likely to talk on the phone while they were driving.Schmidt recalls the driver with a dash camera who was taping the aftermath of a crash. Because the driver was looking at that crash, she had a crash of her own on the other side of the highway when she hit another car that was stopped to help.

A woman talks on her phone while driving. A recent Texas study found women were 63 per cent more likely to talk on the phone while they were driving.
Supplied, Fotolia

The penalties

Fines and penalties for distracted driving have increased dramatically across Canada. Today, according to CAA, fines for distracted driving by province are as follows:

B.C.: $167 fine, 3 demerits. Alberta: $287 fine, 3 demerits. Saskatchewan: $287 fine, 4 demerits. Manitoba: $200 fine, 5 demerits. Ontario: $490-$1,000 fine, 3 demerits. Quebec: $115-$145 fine, 4 demerits. Nfld., Labrador: $100-$400 fine, 4 demerits. P.E.I.: $500-$1,200 fine, 5 demerits. Nova Scotia:  4 demerits, $233.95 fine for the first offence, $348.95 for the second offence, $578.95 for subsequent offences. New Brunswick: $172.50 fine, 3 demerits. Yukon: $250 fine, 3 demerits. N.W.T.: $322 fine, 3 demerits.

“Oh, it’s just a quick peek at that text.” At 60 km/h — the common speed at which many cars travel on city streets — your 1,500-kilograms of metal and plastic are travelling at 16.7 m/s. A three-second glance at your phone means you’ve travelled more than 50 metres without looking at the road, more than enough distance for a child to step into your path. At 120 km/h, that three-second glance means you’ve crossed an entire Canadian football field without seeing a thing.

The loads

Unsafe loads, unsafe cars. Plenty of people will be heading to beaches and cottages loaded with all kinds of gear, and many will lose their loads. Schmidt said he’s seen it all, from “lawn chairs flying off roofs” to holes in floorboards to ladders straddling the road. Woolley noted one August long-weekend that left a lot of desks, futons, mattresses and fridges scattered on roads. “There’s apparently going to be some very sparsely furnished dorm rooms,” Woolley said at the time, a day before students went back to school. There was also the time a Volkswagen Golf owner with a For Sale sign in one window attracted the attention from an OPP officer, who, Woolley said, was ticketed on Hwy. 400 after the officer saw the line: “Needs brakes.”

The lack of focus

Holiday-weekend crashes happen more frequently in rural areas and involve more out-of-province drivers than during other weekends. Part of the cause is unfamiliarity with the roads as more people travel further from home. But rear-end and angular crashes — often indicative of driver distraction — are also more common during the holidays. “They’re excited, in good moods, but sometimes they lose their focus and attention on driving,” said Schmidt. “Drivers need to focus and realize that there’s a lot of people out there. … We want you to get out there and have fun, but do it responsibly.”

Police officers stop motorists during a RIDE program spot-check on Lake Shore Blvd. in Toronto, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012.

Police officers stop motorists during a RIDE program spot-check on Lake Shore Blvd. in Toronto, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012.
Darren Calabrese, National Post

The surprise stats

Contrary to popular thought, holiday weekends see fewer crashes involving drunk driving and speeding when compared with regular weekends, according to the Alberta study. Police suspect that’s because more people are travelling together and with family. And because of congestion, it simply becomes harder to speed. Still, one of the worst long weekend crashes closed the Burlington Skyway for four days in 2014. Sukhvinder Singh Rai caused roughly $1.2 million in damages and traffic chaos when his dump truck — with its bucket raised — crashed into the top of the bridge. “The scene was a mess. Several steel girders were down on the highway,” the OPP said at the time, fearing the bridge would collapse. “The cab was completely torn apart – unrecognizable even as a tractor trailer cab.” Rai faced charges of impaired driving, driving over 80 mgs, dangerous driving and mischief endangering life. He was found guilty of dangerous driving.

The “move over” law

If you do see police, give them room. With the weekend’s added enforcement, police will be stopping plenty of vehicles. But many drivers still don’t “move over” when approaching an emergency vehicle (including tow trucks) — thereby breaking the law. OPP laid more than 1,000 charges under the so-called “move over” law last year. Fines vary by province, but failure to follow the law in Ontario can result in fines from $400 to $2,000 and three demerit points for a first offence. “A lot of people are just rocketing past our cruisers, and these are fully marked police cars with all the lights flashing,” Woolley noted in 2008. “We have people zooming by at 130 or 140 (km/h) inches away from our officers.”