An 11-year-old Canadian boy is presumably grounded after leading police on a high-speed chase on a busy Toronto highway over the weekend — a joy ride that the boy told officers was inspired by playing the video game “Grand Theft Auto.”
According to Ontario Provincial Police, the child hit the road in his family’s minivan after 11 p.m. Saturday.
Right away, several things alarmed witnesses who saw the van: It didn’t have its headlights on and was moving so erratically that people assumed an impaired driver was at the wheel, said Ontario police spokesman Sgt. Kerry Schmidt.
“As soon as he hit the highway, people started calling 9-1-1,” Schmidt told The Washington Post in a phone call Tuesday.
For a few miles, the minivan traveled northbound on Highway 400, a major expressway leading in and out of Toronto, traveling about half the speed limit. Then, it abruptly exited the freeway, turned around and reentered a southbound lane, Schmidt said.
When an officer tried to approach the rogue vehicle, it sped off, reaching speeds of 75 to 80 mph, Schmidt said. Eventually, another officer arrived, and both were able to bring the van to a safe stop.
That’s when police discovered the driver was not an impaired adult, but someone barely old enough to reach the pedals and see over the steering wheel at the same time.
“Shockingly, [it was] an 11-year-old kid who had just been finishing playing ‘Grand Theft Auto’ at home and wanted to find out what it was like to drive a car,” Schmidt said Sunday in a Periscope broadcast recounting the incident. “Incredibly dangerous. Unbelievable that that’s happening on our roads.”
“Grand Theft Auto” is one of the world’s most popular video game series that has also been criticized for its violence and sexism. As players advance through the game’s missions, they often engage in high-speed driving, carjackings, shootings and other illegal activities.
“There’s a lot of [profane] language, there’s sex, there’s prostitution” in “Grand Theft Auto,” Schmidt said. “It’s not a game that I would think an 11-year-old would be playing.”
Schmidt said it was the first time he had heard of such an incident in the greater Toronto area. He added that police did not name the boy or cite him because there are no appropriate laws in Canada to criminally charge someone younger than 12.
Instead, police had the minivan towed back to the boy’s home and returned him to his family, who told police they were sleeping at the time and unaware the child had left with the vehicle, Schmidt said.
“In terms of the punishment, that’s going to be up to the parents,” he said. “Hopefully they find an appropriate discipline or sanction that will be meaningful for the kid.”
— Sgt Kerry Schmidt (@OPP_HSD) November 27, 2016
Police reported no damage to the car or to any property as a result of the joy ride. On Periscope on Sunday, Schmidt called the incident “an absolute tragedy waiting to happen.”
“It’s so fortunate that no one was killed,” Schmidt told The Post. “For us to be knocking on the door [at 1 a.m.] . . . that could have been just as well a death notification.”
Warning against copycats, Schmidt on Periscope admonished any young viewers: “‘Grand Theft Auto’ is not the way to learn how to drive, so please don’t try taking your parents’ car if you just got all excited by playing ‘Grand Theft.’ ”
Schmidt hopes the incident sparks conversations between parents and their children about the differences between video games and real life.
“Virtual reality is exactly like that. Virtual,” Schmidt said. “You only get one life. You can’t restart after you the crash the car.”