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Distracting penalties

Penalty Points and How They Affect You

I’ve always understood penalty points to be a kind of score-keeping method to assign a level of risk to the breach of a traffic rule.

The more dangerous the violation, the more penalty points assigned to a driving conviction. Rack up too many points in a set period of time and you have to pay ICBC premiums and risk a driving prohibition from RoadSafetyBC. Although penalty points have been a part of driving in B.C. for many years, they are generally poorly understood.

The penalty point scheme is set up under Division 28 of the Motor Vehicle Act Regulations. It states that when a driver is convicted of an offence, ICBC will assign penalty points to a person’s driving record according to four schedules.

• The first contains two-point offences, such as changing lanes without signalling or running a red light.

• The second lists three point offences that include driving without a driver’s licence or speeding.

• The six-point violations in the third list are driving without due care and attention, and driving without reasonable consideration for others using the highway.

• Finally, we have 10-point offences such as impaired or dangerous driving under the Criminal Code.

Effective June 1, there will be a new category of four-penalty points for drivers who are convicted for distracted-driving offences such as texting and driving.

Is the level of risk associated to various offences appropriate? I would equate disobeying a red light at an intersection as being more dangerous than speeding, yet the red-light offence is only two points while speeding is three.

Why was distracted driving assigned four points instead of six? It would seem that texting and driving might be the equivalent of driving without reasonable consideration for others using the highway.

Each year, ICBC looks at the total number of points you received during a 12-month assessment period that ends five months before your birthday. The assessment period may include driving offences during an earlier period that have only recently been recorded on your driving record.

If you collect more than three points on your driving record during the assessment period, you'll pay a Driver Penalty Point premium. Depending on the type of offence, you may also be assessed a Driver Risk premium.

RoadSafetyBC decides on driving prohibitions set out in the Driver Improvement Program Policies and Guidelines. In general, a driver in the Graduated Licencing Program may expect a sanction after only one or two tickets in a 24-month period. Experienced drivers have much more latitude. Depending on the type of offence, it could take as many as 15 penalty points over two years before action is taken.

The Guidelines are prefaced with the advice that they are just that. An adjudicator may choose to take action in a different manner if the driving behaviour justifies it.

Is there any way that I could just pay a fine and not receive the penalty points? This is a question heard frequently in traffic court. The only connection between penalty points and traffic court is whether you are convicted of the offence as a driver. If you are convicted, the offence goes on your driving record and ICBC will assess points.

To comment or learn more, please visit DriveSmartBC.ca.


Slow down, breathe easier

I’m in a world of mixed messages. Some are real, some are emotional, some are false and some come from the government. The one that I would like to tackle here might be a bit odd for DriveSmartBC but the consequences could be related back to safety. I’m thinking about travel speed and fuel economy because the faster you go, the more it costs, probably in more ways than one.
Whether you believe in global warming or not, I’m sure that none of us would happily breathe sitting next to the exhaust pipes of our vehicles. What comes out of that pipe, regardless of the current technology to reduce emissions incorporated into the vehicle, would harm us. The situation is significant as the Greenhouse Gas Reduction (Vehicle Emissions Standards) Act Policy Intentions Paper suggests that 40% of transportation emissions come from light vehicles and amounts to about 9.5 million tons annually.
Common sense tells us that doing what we can to reduce what comes out of the tailpipe would be a good thing for our health. Information from both the Greater Vancouver Regional District and the Province of British Columbia confirms it.
In 2008 the provincial government enacted the Greenhouse Gas Reduction (Vehicle Emissions Standards) Act. By this year, the Act was supposed to have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 30% relative to the vehicle fleet current then. The Act has never been proclaimed in force.
According to information published by Natural Resources Canada, in terms of fuel consumption versus speed, the “sweet spot” for light vehicle operation is between 50 and 80 km/h. It appears from the graph shown on the page that the most efficient speed to travel is just over 60 km/h.
I was not able to find a similar resource for heavy vehicles, but Cummins (a diesel engine manufacturer) seems to indicate that fuel consumption is more efficient at speeds of 90 km/h and slower.
How does this compare with the recent speed changes on B.C. highways? An increase in speeds above about 60 km/h means an exponential increase in fuel consumption. Increased fuel consumption means both an increase in greenhouse gas production along with various other pollutants in vehicle exhaust. The mixed message I see here is that we want to reduce pollution, but you are now being facilitated to drive in a manner that makes the situation worse.
The manner in which you operate your vehicle, regardless of the speed limit, also plays a significant role in fuel economy. Accelerating gently, maintaining a steady speed, anticipating traffic, avoiding high speeds and coasting to decelerate contributes to fewer dollars spent at the pump and reduced emissions.
Even if we don’t debate how fast we should go when we drive, the other fuel saving behaviours are also safety enhancing tactics for drivers. To use them successfully we have to pay attention to the driving task, anticipate what others are going to do and adjust accordingly. These should be basic driving habits.
The connection between saving money at the pump, breathing a little more easily and being a safe driver might now be a bit clearer. If you don’t like that old hack “Speed Kills!” in relation to maximum speeds, it might make some sense to change it to “Slow Down, Breathe Easier.”
To comment or learn more visit DriveSmartBC.ca

Trailer tug test revisited

Back in 2004, I put tongue in cheek and wrote about the trailer tug test: Hook up the trailer, drive off and look in the rear view mirror, if it’s still following you, carry on.

Yesterday I found myself behind a couple of vehicles pulling trailers, and wondered if their drivers had read about the trailer tug test and missed the fact that I was being facetious. Neither trailer had any functioning lights, and I can only guess what else had been overlooked.

Capacity, hitch ball size, and safety chains

The entire hitch assembly must be strong enough to handle the gross trailer weight. 

The diameter of the ball must match the size of the coupler on the trailer. 

The lock must be locked. 

Safety chains must be strong enough, and if two are present, crossed like a cradle under the hitch.

Make sure that the electrical connection between the tow vehicle and trailer is clean and undamaged. Plug it in.

Simple enough you say? Well, sometimes we forget about this. Just ask the RV technician who coupled a holiday trailer up to an undersized ball for delivery to a customer after doing repairs. After bouncing over the railroad tracks, the coupler pulled off the ball, the safety chains didn’t hold, and the tech was left to explain to the customer why his trailer was in the ditch.

Now that we’re hitched up, it’s time to worry about the trailer brakes

In certain circumstances, brakes are not needed, but if the trailer is equipped with them, they must work properly.

Check that the brake fluid is clear, straw coloured, and full if the trailer has hydraulic brakes. 

Activate the breakaway brake, and try to move forward.

The brake should prevent you from doing this. Reconnect the breakaway, and if you can apply only the trailer brakes from the driver’s position, do so, then try the tug test again.

While we’re in the driver’s seat, let’s take a look back

Are your mirrors adequate and adjusted properly to see behind you as required?

A circle check of the entire combination should be done

Do all the lights light? 

Are any of them missing, broken, or obscured by the load? 

Do the tires have sufficient tread, are they properly inflated? 

Are the wheel nuts tight?

If you are using the trailer to carry a load, is it secured properly? Gravity is not an acceptable method of load security. 

Is the total weight of the trailer and load less than or equal to both the manufacturer’s maximum capacity and it is licensed for with ICBC? Many Ubilt utility trailers are licensed for 700 kg GVW, the total weight of the load and the trailer. Often these trailers are significantly overloaded.

Having reached this point, if all is well you are probably ready to go. There are other things that you might want to check, though, and a suggested pre-trip inspection routine can be found in ICBC’s publication Towing a Recreational Trailer. http://www.icbc.com/driver-licensing/Documents/towing-trailer-full-mv2024.pdf

One last thought: You are no longer a shorter, more agile vehicle. Longer braking and following distances are needed, along with careful consideration of your new turning radius.

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Shadow the brake

One evening while patrolling in an unmarked police car I approached a cross street that was controlled by stop signs. I could see a car approaching from my right, going fast enough I was concerned that the driver did not intend to stop. 

I shadowed my brake pedal, and when the other vehicle was at a 45 degree angle making a right turn, I stomped and stopped. So did he. 

We sat and looked at each other for a moment, and when it was clear that he wasn’t going to go, I waved him forward.

I’m sure that you are anticipating why I wanted to have this driver in front of me. 

Yes, I turned on my emergency equipment and pulled him over to issue a traffic ticket for disobeying the stop sign. The driver was not happy with the outcome, and said so. He had come to a complete stop, he said, so why was I bothering him by writing a ticket? I explained that it was not only important to stop for stop signs, it was also important how and where you stopped.

The driver must not have believed me because I received a notice for traffic court. He was disputing the allegation.

At the trial, I explained the circumstances to the justice. This driver had started to encroach on my lane before he stopped, and I had stopped because I was concerned that we were going to collide with each other. He was facing a stop sign at the intersection, and both a crosswalk and a stop line were marked on the pavement. The stop occurred with the back bumper of this man’s vehicle over the stop line.

The driver was convicted for disobeying the stop sign, and fined.

Chances are good that this driver only intended to stop for the sign if he needed to. The speed at which he approached the intersection was much faster than most drivers who come to a proper stop.

By shadowing the brake, I mean taking your foot off of the accelerator and hovering it over the brake pedal without touching it. If you need to brake in a hurry, you are almost there already. If not, you can move your foot back to the accelerator and continue on.

Shadowing the brake when you are concerned allows you to stop faster if your suspicions are confirmed. 

The stop sign only tells you what you need to do when you face one. It is the markings, or lack of them, on the road that tell you where you must stop. If there is a marked stop line, then you must stop before you cross it. If there is a marked crosswalk and no stop line, you stop before entering the crosswalk. If there are no markings present, you stop before you encroach on the lane used by cross traffic.

Scanning both sides of the intersection as you approach allows you to gauge what other traffic might do before you enter the intersection.

Once you’ve stopped, what if you can’t see properly? Your next step is to carefully move ahead to where you can see sufficiently well, and stop again. Proceed when it is safe to do so. 

I have been advised by ICBC driving examiners that the secondary stop is not necessary if no cross traffic is present. However, if you are taking a road test, it would be wise to discuss this with your examiner before you start the exam.

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More Behind the Wheel articles

About the Author

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement experience. He has been writing his column for most of the 20 years of his service in the RCMP.

The column was 'The Beat Goes On' in Fort St. John, 'Traffic Tips' in the South Okanagan and now 'Behind the Wheel' on Vancouver Island and here on Castanet.net.

Schewe retired from the force in January of 2006, but the column has become a habit, and continues.

To comment, please email

To learn more, visit DriveSmartBC

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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