By Zoë Mason,
Bruce Peninsula Press

Over 5.6 thousand views have accumulated on the August 12 virtual town hall meeting on Highway 6 safety concerns.

The meeting was live streamed on Facebook and hosted by a panel which included representatives from the provincial and municipal government, Ontario Provincial Police (O.P.P.), and Safe Communities Committee Bruce Peninsula. 

The primary goal of the town hall was to provide updates on the efforts that are underway to address the shortcomings in terms of highway safety that have been troubling residents in both the North and South Bruce Peninsula municipalities.

In his update, Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound MPP Bill Walker assures constituents that local law enforcement’s policy towards stunt driving is, and remains, “zero tolerance.” 

“When drivers are caught stunt driving, they automatically incur the seven day penalty of impounding their car, and that automatically triggers the Attorney General and then goes through to the court process,” he says.

The challenge, says Walker, is what happens once these cases get to court. The length of the process as well as bartering and lenient sentences are all concerns that he says he has raised to the Attorney General. 

Walker also contends that the unprecedented circumstances of the time have also had an effect on the frequency of stunt driving offenses in the region.

“There has been an increase, sadly, during the COVID time period that they have actually noted through the Solicitor General’s office,” he says.

He also added that he hopes that insurance companies will do their part to support governmental efforts to stiffen penalties for offenders.

“I hope the insurance industry is really going as far as they can to make it hurt for people at the end of the day, if they’re going to do this” he added. “This is not a one off in many cases. This is people that are knowing the laws and continuing to break them.”

Janice Jackson, the mayor of the Southern Bruce Peninsula, had a lot of praise for the efforts within the community to curb stunt driving and promote highway safety.

“It’s really remarkable what happens when you get a whole pile of people together and work for a common cause,” she says. “I’m proud of the work that the community has done.”

That said, she is frustrated at the lack of concrete evidence that this work is paying off. She also advocates for stiffer monetary penalties, contending that the fines are “nowhere near what they need to be.” She is upset by the current state of affairs on Highway 6, which she calls a “horrific situation.”

By the numbers

Speeding stats taken from Pike Bay Road on Highway 6 the week of June 10th to 16th, 2020.
Speeding stats taken from Highway 6 at Ferndale Rd. the weekend of July 10th to 12th, 2020.

Adam Belanger, a constable with the Grey Bruce O.P.P. detachment, gave a presentation which contained a number of informative statistics. 

One of the more striking sets of numbers was the quantity of stunt driving charges in the Bruce Peninsula region, which jumped from 43 drivers in 2017 to 190 in 2018. This number, says Belanger, reflects an improvement in policing stunt drivers, which he accredits to an increased deployment of officers during times that stunt driving is known to be at its highest.

“This year alone, unfortunately, it continues to grow and we’re on track [to meet] if not exceed last year’s number with 165 drivers charged as of a couple days ago,” he says.

While stunt driving spurs the most public engagement, Belanger reminds residents that speeding is also a problem in the area, and not a negligible one. In 2019, 780 drivers were charged with 

speeding, which can range up to 49 kilometers an hour above the posted speed limit. This year, the charges already total 339. 

Belanger also applauds the public for an increase in reporting unsafe driving on Highway 6, which grew from 250 complaints in 2017 to 377 the following year. As of Aug. 10 of this year, the O.P.P. had received 239 complaints.

This increase in reporting can be attributed in part to a high level of community engagement regarding this issue in recent years. The Bruce Peninsula Safe Communities Committee has played no small part in fostering this engagement. 

The first meeting of the Safe Communities Committee was held in 2017. Francesca Dobbyn, the manager of Safe Communities Bruce Peninsula, says that the aim of this initial meeting was answering some fundamental questions: “What can we do? What are the issues? What are the opportunities?”

Since then, among their greatest accomplishments has been the acquisition and installation of two SPEEDSBY devices, which have been used in collaboration with the O.P.P. to measure and track speeding and stunt driving along Highway 6. 

Dobbyn encourages locals to continue with their efforts to promote safety on Highway 6. She recommends deterring tourists from violating road rules by warning of strict enforcement on Yelp reviews. 

Inspector Sean Johnson, West Region Traffic and Marine Manager with the O.P.P., added that while local engagement is important, the scope of the issue is broader than the Bruce.

“We need to figure out who the target audience is,” he says. “It’s not about just putting signs up and when [drivers] come in, they see the signs as indicated. We need to go to those communities in which the people are commuting from or traveling through. And that includes outside of your constituents or your location.”

“The GTA, Southwestern Ontario, and Central Ontario” are some of the places he identifies as areas that require this attention. He cites social media campaigns on Facebook and Twitter as one of the ways he and his colleagues have attempted to reach these audiences. 

The Safe Communities Committee and the O.P.P. have not been alone in their efforts. The Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) has also responded to concerns in the area with a number of strategies intended to enhance safety for motorists along the Bruce Peninsula corridor.

Carmen De Leon, a traffic engineer from the MTO’s London office, gave a presentation outlining some of the department’s recent efforts. Some of their projects have included the installation of safety message signs in strategic locations along the highway, upgrading the size of speed limit signs, extending no-passing zones to exceed standard length between Hepworth and Tobermory, and introducing a no-parking zone at Dorcas Bay road. 

A busy stretch of Highway 6, between Ferndale and Tobermory. Extensions of no-pass zones like the ones pictured here are just one of several efforts to improve safety on the roadway.

De Leon also notes that by implementing aircraft enforcement, Highway 6 became the first two-lane highway to do so; the only other roadways with aircraft enforcement are the 400 series freeways in the Greater Toronto Area. 

Inspector Paul Schambers, Commander of the Grey Bruce O.P.P. detachment, also addressed a rumoured racing ring and called on the community for additional information.

The ring, which rumoured to begin in the GTA and end in Tobermory, would present an additional and significant threat to safety on the already problematic roadway. At the moment, Schambers says, all of the information the O.P.P. has obtained is “anecdotal.”

“If anybody does know anything about this potential race that may or may not occur over the Labor Day weekend, we would be all yours,” he says. “Certainly we would like to take action on that to prevent a tragedy, because if there’s a series of cars that are going to be racing from Toronto to Tobermory that has the potential to end in tragedy.” 

Going forward

Constable Belanger also presented a number of charts and tables, showcasing statistics from various long weekends from 2018 to the present.

While many of these statistics may be troubling, one important statistic may provide some much needed peace of mind: since January 2018, there have been zero fatalities on Highway 6. 

Of course, in order to keep the fatality rates low, all of the interested parties urged continual engagement between community partners, stakeholders, and visitors alike to respect the rules of the road.

Belanger, while recalling a meeting he’d had with the families of two victims of collisions on Highway 6, starkly reminded attendees of what Terry Bell, a South Bruce resident, retired O.P.P., and collaborator with the Safe Community Committee called “the human toll.”

“A lot of times we deal with the aftermath, but they live it every day,” he says. “The moment that I deal with a collision scene, it comes and goes, but the memories day after day that the family deals with is the agony that goes on and on.”

To report dangerous driving, call 1-888-310-1122 or *OPP.