‘Speed­ing has been nor­mal­ized’

Driv­ing in­struc­tor says speed­ing data ‘may even be on the low side’ of real num­ber of in­ci­dents

The Compass - - Front page - Sara.Eric­s­[email protected]­tynews.ca

Panic, fear, and worst-case-sce­nar­ios whirled through Michael Tops’ head as he ran to help his son and close friend after their mo­tor­cy­cle col­lided with a pickup truck.

The 2005 ac­ci­dent at the in­ter­sec­tion of Brook­lyn Street and Lanzy Road in Centreville, Kings County could have been worse. Both men sur­vived, but Tops’ friend Eric Payne lost one of his legs and his mil­i­tary ca­reer. Tops says the hos­pi­tal vis­its also con­trib­uted to his fam­ily’s de­ci­sion to re­lo­cate from Green­wood to Shear­wa­ter.

And all of this is be­cause of the dan­ger­ous driv­ing he be­lieves caused the ac­ci­dent.

“The road­way they were on is a road where speed­ing is a nor­mal­ity – a back road out­side of town rarely pa­trolled by po­lice, in an area where traf­fic vol­ume is gen­er­ally low. Both were there at the same time,” says Tops.

“Whether there was a huge in­ten­tional com­po­nent there to be driv­ing dan­ger­ous, I can’t say. But, my gut tells me.”

Speed­ing a fac­tor in in­surance av­er­ages

Eighty per cent of mo­tor ac­ci­dents can be avoided with one more sec­ond of re­sponse time – but only if mo­torists are driv­ing at the posted high­way speeds, says Gary Howard, vice-pres­i­dent of com­mu­ni­ca­tions at the Cana­dian Au­to­mo­bile As­so­ci­a­tion’s At­lantic de­part­ment.

Once speed­ing is fac­tored in, driv­ers have even less time to re­spond. De­spite dan­ger­ous driv­ing hap­pen­ing across the At­lantic re­gion, he says there’s no cer­tain way to tell which prov­ince is most dan­ger­ous.

“If you speed, and you have a dis­trac­tion, you likely would not be able to re­act as well,” he says.

“It doesn’t take much, es­pe­cially if speed­ing, to have a fa­tal­ity.”

Among the At­lantic prov­inces,

New­found­land has the high­est five-year av­er­age of speed­ing tick­ets from 2013 to 2017 – 29 per 1,000 peo­ple – with P.E.I., N.B. and N.S. com­ing in at 21, 20 and 17 per 1,000

peo­ple, re­spec­tively.

New­found­land also has the high­est av­er­age in­surance rates in At­lantic Canada, at $1,132. Prince Ed­ward Is­land has the low­est at $796, with Nova Sco­tia and New Brunswick in sec­ond and third, with av­er­ages of $842 and $819.

These higher in­surance rates aren’t due only to dan­ger­ous driv­ing – rates con­sider ad­di­tional fac­tors like a driver’s age and driv­ing record – but also con­sider claims per capita for all kinds of ac­ci­dents, says Howard.

“The sim­ple thing is the higher claims means higher risk, means higher pre­mi­ums. The in­surance in­dus­try is ex­tremely com­plex… But in gen­eral, the three mar­itime prov­inces are com­pa­ra­ble,” he says.

Tops, who works as a project man­ager and de­fen­sive driv­ing ex­pert with Safety Ser­vices Nova Sco­tia, says while he can only speak to Nova Sco­tia, he’s not at all sur­prised by what the data shows.

“Do I find these num­bers sur­pris­ing? Not at all – I think they may even be on the low side. Speed­ing has been nor­mal­ized in At­lantic Canada,” he says.

Dan­ger­ous driv­ing in At­lantic Canada: num­bers

Speed and ag­gres­sive, or dan­ger­ous, driv­ers are listed to­gether as one of nine key fac­tors con­tribut­ing to col­li­sions in Canada in a Cana­dian Coun­cil of Mo­tor Trans­port Ad­min­is­tra­tors’ study called Canada’s Road Safety Strat­egy 2025.

The study de­fines these driv­ers as “driv­ing at speeds be­yond posted le­gal lim­its or driv­ing too fast for road con­di­tions and driver be­hav­iours which are deemed il­le­gal or out­side so­cially ac­cept­able norms which put other road users at risk.”

Specif­i­cally, CCMTA data from its an­nual Speed and In­ter­sec­tion Safety Man­age­ment study in 2009 – the most re­cent found on its web­site – found 27 per cent of fa­tal­i­ties and 19 per cent of se­ri­ous col­li­sions in­volved speed­ing. It also found 40 per cent of speed­ing driv­ers in­volved in fa­tal car ac­ci­dents were be­tween the ages of 16 and 24.

Tops, who is a driver in­struc­tor by trade and has taught mo­tor­cy­cle safety train­ing since the 1990s, says he rec­og­nizes the roles age and lack of ex­pe­ri­ence can play in such ac­ci­dents.

He doesn’t feel it was a fac­tor when his son and friend col­lided with the truck, but rather that speed and “inat­ten­tive driv­ing” were more likely to blame.

“Whether (the driver) drifted over, or it was Eric – the long and short of it is both ve­hi­cles were at the cen­tre line at the ex­act same time,” says Tops.

The data also found most driv­ers killed in these in­ci­dents were speed­ing, and that 80 per cent of pas­sen­gers killed in a speed­ing crash had been in the ve­hi­cle with a driver the same age.

Data also shows sin­gleve­hi­cle crashes ac­counted for more than 50 per cent of speed­ing deaths and in­juries, and one in three driv­ers in­volved in fa­tal speed­ing ac­ci­dents had been drink­ing.

CCMTA de­clined to com­ment on this story.

Stunt­ing charges

Dan­ger­ous driv­ing was also iden­ti­fied as a con­cern by the Cana­dian As­so­ci­a­tion of Chiefs of Po­lice in its 2018 Op­er­a­tion Im­pact, an ini­tia­tive some prov­inces took part in to ad­dress ag­gres­sive driv­ing, im­paired driv­ing, dis­tracted driv­ing and seat­belt usage.

Nova Sco­tia par­tic­i­pated, but RCMP pub­lic in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer Cpl. Jen­nifer Clarke says it’s “dif­fi­cult to as­sess” what di­rect im­pact the ini­tia­tive has had since it be­gan in Oc­to­ber.

Stunt­ing – a charge Nova Sco­tia driv­ers face if clocked driv­ing 50 kilo­me­tres per hour or more above the law­ful rate of speed – is also cause for con­cern, ac­cord­ing to Clarke, who says data shows charges have risen steadily in the prov­ince since the law came into ef­fect in 2013.

“Be­fore that law came into ef­fect, some­one who was go­ing more than 50 km/h would have re­ceived a ticket for speed­ing, so it’s not as if driv­ers weren’t be­ing tick­eted for that of­fence,” she says.

Tops says he’s thank­ful both Payne and his son sur­vived the ac­ci­dent and says both men feel lucky the in­ci­dent has only left them phys­i­cally scarred – Payne now presents as a mo­ti­va­tional speaker to other am­putees, and Tops’ son owns and drives his own mo­tor­cy­cle.

As for Tops, he now uses the event as a first-hand ex­am­ple of the con­se­quences of dan­ger­ous driv­ing and the sec­onds it re­moves from a driver’s re­sponse time.

“That ac­ci­dent could so eas­ily have taken both their lives,” says Tops.

In­creas­ing num­bers

The one prov­ince that has seen a reg­u­lar in­crease of driv­ers caught speed­ing 50 kilo­me­tres over posted speed lim­its is Nova Sco­tia, which has in­creased each year since 2013. In what Hal­i­fax Re­gional Po­lice me­dia of­fi­cer Const. John Ma­cLeod calls an in­ci­dent “of sig­nif­i­cant speed and dan­ger to the pub­lic,” a Tan­tallon, NS driver was caught driv­ing 162 kilo­me­tres per hour over the rec­om­mended limit in a Hal­i­fax school zone in March 2018.

This was one of 18 stunt­ing tick­ets is­sued in Hal­i­fax from Novem­ber 2017 to Novem­ber 2018, ac­cord­ing to data re­ceived Nov. 23, 2018.

“When­ever some­one chooses to ex­ceed these lim­its, it places both the oc­cu­pants of that ve­hi­cle in po­ten­tial dan­ger as well as the rest of the mo­tor­ing pub­lic and pedes­tri­ans in the area,” says Ma­cLeod.

Such in­ci­dents show At­lantic Cana­di­ans still have far to go, says Tops, who sits on the prov­ince’s Road Safety Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee, which he de­scribes as a “think tank” for the trans­porta­tion de­part­ment.

Tops says the in­ci­dent serves as an in­spi­ra­tion to him and oth­ers de­cid­ing how to best ad­dress speed­ing and dan­ger­ous driv­ing that re­sult in these ac­ci­dents, which often oc­cur due to sev­eral fac­tors, he says, in­clud­ing speed, weather, age, and ex­pe­ri­ence.

“There were cer­tainly a mul­ti­tude of fac­tors when our ac­ci­dent hap­pened – it was a recipe for dis­as­ter,” he says.

“A mo­ment of inat­ten­tion can make a life­time of dif­fer­ence.”

While road safety re­mains an iden­ti­fied is­sue across Canada, Clarke said the one thing po­lice can con­tinue do­ing is us­ing dif­fer­ent tac­tics – rent­ing cars to use to spot traf­fic vi­o­la­tions or even dress­ing po­lice as hitch­hik­ers watch­ing for cell phone use – to con­tinue tick­et­ing driv­ers and re­lay­ing why be­ing safe while driv­ing is so im­por­tant.

She also high­lights cru­cial part­ner­ships, not­ing the Nova Sco­tia RCMP often work with mu­nic­i­pal po­lice de­part­ments, ve­hi­cle com­pli­ance, and mil­i­tary po­lice to get the job done.

“We will con­tinue to be out there… try­ing to do our part to im­prove road safety for Nova Sco­tia driv­ers,” says Clarke.

Tops’ fam­ily and Payne met up in 2015 in Cold­brook to mark the 10-year an­niver­sary of that life-chang­ing ac­ci­dent. They have dubbed the an­niver­sary ‘Alive Day’ to cel­e­brate that they and their love of mo­tor­cy­cling sur­vived.

“After (the ac­ci­dent), we all still rode. Has it changed the out­look? Sure, and some things are a lit­tle more pro­nounced now – a lit­tle more cau­tion used on blind turns,” says Tops.

“After (the ac­ci­dent), we all still rode. Has it changed the out­look? Sure, and some things are a lit­tle more pro­nounced now – a lit­tle more cau­tion used on blind turns.”

Michael Tops


Sgt. An­drew Buckle with the RCMP uses a LIDAR to catch speed­ers in the An­napo­lis Val­ley of Nova Sco­tia.


Michael Tops, right, stands with his son, wife and close friend Eric Payne, all of whom were driv­ing mo­tor­cy­cles along Brook­lyn Street in Centreville in 2005 when Payne and Tops’ son were struck by a pickup truck. They are pic­tured here in 2015, when they met to mark the tenth an­niver­sary of the event they’ve dubbed ‘Alive Day.’


CAA At­lantic vice-pres­i­dent Gary Howard says 80 per cent of mo­tor ac­ci­dents can be avoided with one more sec­ond of re­sponse time.


Tops works as a project man­ager at Safety Ser­vices Nova Sco­tia and is a cer­ti­fied driv­ing and mo­tor­cy­cle in­struc­tor. He says speed­ing data doesn’t sur­prise him be­cause “speed­ing has been nor­mal­ized.”

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