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Behind The Wheel

Automated speed limit

According to B.C.'s new 10 Year Transportation Plan, safety on British Columbia’s highways and side roads is the ministry’s number-one priority. Four pages of the 56 page report are dedicated to the topic. Aside from physical infrastructure improvements and singling out left lane hogs for special attention, only the slow down move over law is mentioned. My wish is that the province would bring back automated speed enforcement.

I'm not going to advocate for the photo radar program that the current government scrapped, but for time over distance or section control of vehicle speeds. Instead of an instantaneous check of velocity, vehicles are recorded when they enter and when they leave a highway segment. If the vehicle's average speed in the segment is over the posted speed limit enforcement action is taken. Momentary inattention is not penalized, but consistent inability to follow the limit is.

This type of automated enforcement is in use in Europe and the European Transportation Safety Council reports that "The majority of evaluations of sites using section control show evidence of reductions in average and 85th percentile speeds, most often indicating that these speeds were reduced at, or below, the posted speed limit." Examples of significant reductions in collision numbers, injuries and fatalities are given for the various member countries that operate these systems.

I suspect that if drivers chose not to exceed the speed limits, the need to worry about left lane hogs mentioned in the plan would be reduced. Section control would also free police to focus on other behaviours that we like to complain that they should be doing instead of speed enforcement.


The author is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement experience. To comment or learn more, please visit


Daytime running lights

Daytime running lights (DRLs) have been mandatory equipment on all vehicles in Canada since model year 1990. That means we're passing the quarter century mark of the introduction of this safety feature. The final version of Statistics Canada's Canadian Vehicle Survey was published in 2010 and at that point, vehicles older than model year 1991 make up less than 5.5% of the total number of light vehicles on our highways. We should not encounter many vehicles that don't have DRLs during our travels.

In my experience, many people like lights and often add extras to their vehicles, either for a specific safety purpose or for decoration. Why would some vehicle owners purposely disable their DRLs even though it is not legal to do so in British Columbia? The best justification that I could find for this is because the use of DRLs slightly increases fuel consumption. Newer vehicles use LEDs or signal light filaments to provide adequate light yet minimize fuel consumption.

I suspect that fuel efficient driving techniques would more than offset the cost of DRLs and contribute to their safety gain.

DRLs also guard against carelessness or inattentiveness, at least for drivers facing the vehicle. It is a popular complaint from DriveSmartBC respondents that drivers will drive without lights at times of poor visibility. Automatic lighting systems are popular in new vehicles, but until you buy one you do have to remember to turn on rear lights when necessary.

Detecting drug impaired driving

Detecting and successfully prosecuting drug impaired drivers on B.C.'s highways is not a simple task. Currently the Criminal Code provisions for Drug Recognition Expert examination is the only method used to qualify drug induced impairment where the driver is not obviously incapable of physical control. One day in the not too distant future, the Cannabix marihuana breathalyzer may allow police to deal with the problem though a roadside breath test just as they would an alcohol impaired driver.

A breath testing tool to detect THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, will have to undergo scientific testing to ensure that it accurately measures the concentration on the driver's breath and relates it to the level in their blood. Once that has been determined the laws will need to be changed to indicate the maximum allowable THC level that the driver can have. Finally, the whole scheme will have to survive the challenge of our legal system.

We have not followed the current practices of countries like Britain and Australia. Britain has recently set blood concentration limits of a number of prescription and illegal drugs and enforces them by blood testing. Australia has done the same but uses saliva testing instead. A breath test based system, at least for THC, may be more palatable if it is successful as it is not as invasive a test as the other two are.

According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, drug impaired driving almost equalled alcohol impaired driving instances in fatal collisions during 2010. The Centre also reports that young people continue to be the largest group of drivers who die in crashes and test positive for alcohol or drugs. A system to effectively deter drug impaired driving is needed and the Cannabix device may be a made in B.C. component of the solution.


The author is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement experience. To comment or learn more, please visit

Young driver deaths

The BC Coroners Service released recommendations today with the hope of mitigating something that we are already aware of, the fact that motor vehicle collisions are the number one cause of death for youth aged 15 to 18. The first two suggest that we study aspects of the issue in more detail and the third that the Ministry of Justice should develop and implement automated speed enforcement. I agree that a thorough understanding of the issue and a review of other jurisdictions best practices may lead to solutions but the devil and I will probably go ice skating together before automated speed enforcement returns to our province.

I'm going to climb up on my soapbox and pronounce that what we really need is a significant attitude adjustment for many drivers in BC regardless of how old they are. In fact, a lot of the behavioural adjustment is probably needed among the older drivers that these young people learn from. Look around you the next time your are out. The majority of drivers will not follow the speed limit. Sloppy driving practices of all kinds abound. Rarely do I see a conscientious defensive driver who takes pride in driving correctly and exercising courtesy to others.

Some parents do not effectively monitor their children as they learn to drive. The responsibility does not end when you hand over the keys. You must set the limits and then be there when the keys come back after the drive to make sure that they are followed. GLP drivers must have a zero (none, not any, nada) blood alcohol when they drive yet many drive to parties that involve alcohol on the weekends with passenger loads that are contrary to the conditions of their licence.

How do we create drivers that want to follow safe and proper driving practices? I wish that I had the answer to that for you. There would be a lot more to gain than lowering the death rate among young drivers. We would also save significant amounts of money in health care and vehicle insurance and actually create money through increased productivity. Even the environment would benefit through reduced pollution and carbon emissions. Maybe attitude is everything.

Read more Behind the Wheel articles

About the author...

Tim Schewe has been writing his column for most of the 20 years in his traffic enforcement service in the RCMP. It was 'The Beat Goes On' in Fort St. John, 'Traffic Tips' in the South Okanagan and now 'Behind the Wheel' on Vancouver Island and now Schewe retired from the Force in January of 2006, but the column became a habit and continues.

E-mail him your questions or concerns: [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet presents its columns "as is" and does not warrant the contents.

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