EDMONTON - The police chief in Alberta's capital is renewing a push for the provincial government to give officers the legal power to seize the vehicles of motorists caught driving at dangerously excessive speeds.
Rod Knecht says police in Edmonton are routinely catching people driving more than 50 km/h over the posted limit. There have been 879 such cases in the last two years, he says.
"The public is concerned about this — 50 km/h isn't somebody that is just in a hurry or late for work," Knecht said in a recent interview. "You are making a conscious effort to drive that fast and drive that recklessly."
Speeding is more pervasive than young men stunting on motorcycles or street racing in hopped-up cars.
In October, city traffic police arrested the driver of a Hyundai car roaring down a road at 163 km/h in a 100 km/h zone, weaving across lanes of traffic.
When officers caught up they found what appeared to be a family of four inside — a 30-year-old man in the driver's seat, a woman in the front passenger seat and two young children in the back.
The man faces several charges, including speeding and dangerous driving.
Knecht said in extreme cases officers should be able to seize vehicles so as to drive home the message that dangerous driving won't be tolerated.
"I would like our officers to have the discretion to do that," Knecht said. "I think in those situations where somebody is clearly being put at risk — and I'm saying life and death — I think it would be an option for the police to do that."
Last spring, the Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police passed a resolution calling on the provincial government to amend the Traffic Safety Act to allow police to immediately seize a vehicle when a driver is charged with excessive speeding.
The resolution also called on the government to allow an officer to immediately suspend a driver's licence for seven days.
The province has yet to respond. Alberta Transportation spokeswoman Donna Babchishin said the government is reviewing it.
The province said last year the idea required further study, including gauging how the public would respond to such a move.
A similar resolution passed by the chiefs in 2009 was rejected by the Alberta government.
Under current provincial law, drivers who speed more than 50 km/h over the limit are subject to fines and demerit points and must appear in court.
In 2010, British Columbia brought in legislation to allow police to seize vehicles from people caught driving more than 40 km/h over the speed limit. Within one year, the number of fatality and injury-related crashes in the province was cut in half.
Ontario and Quebec have similar legislation.
Knecht said traffic enforcement is the No. 1 policing priority for people in Edmonton.
He suggested the public should be asked what it believes the speeding threshold for such a law should be.
"Is 50 km/h (over the limit) a no-brainer? Or is 60 a no-brainer? Or is 30 a no-brainer?"
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