Know before you go

February was not a good one for many drivers in B.C. with the weather-related closures of three major east-west highways.

Contractors generally keep our roads in good condition for safe driving, but when weather overwhelms their resources, it should not be a surprise when closures result.

If you choose to travel during bad weather, your mantra should be Know Before You Go, or perhaps even simply Don't Go.

One news report I saw found a television reporter interviewing eastbound motorists who were stuck in a closure waiting for the Coquihalla Highway to reopen.

The reporter asked one person if they had sufficient notice of the situation.

There was a short pause and then a shake of the head.

No, "they" could have done a better job was the response.

Another said they were keeping hunger at bay by eating chips and cookies.

This significant weather event should not have been a surprise to anyone.

It was not the first storm in recent days and every weather report I saw in the days prior offered warnings.

DriveBC had a travel warning posted on its website; social media was full of stories.

I wonder what the overhead variable message sign had to say for points east of Hope, but I'm guessing that it was not encouraging everyone with a report of good winter driving conditions.

Having chosen to continue the voyage after some consideration, the first responsibility for your health and safety falls to you.

Proper winter clothing, food, water, sleeping bags or blankets, flashlights, candles and matches are a few personal supplies to have along.

True winter tires, a shovel, tow rope, triangles, flares and some spares would be good choices for your vehicle.

Stopping in Hope to top up the tank would have been a good choice to make, too, especially if you don't follow the precautionary habit of operating on the top half of the tank.

Regardless of your preparation, continued assessment of conditions is mandatory.

If you anticipate problems, then that is the time to either turn around and head home or at least find the nearest motel.

Being warm and dry with a full stomach beats sitting on the highway idling your fuel away wondering what will happen.

In a major weather event like this one, "they" are overwhelmed trying to do their jobs to keep you moving or get you moving again.

"They" don't have the time or the resources to hold your hand and make sure that you are all right. If you need it, rescue could be a long time coming.

First and foremost, it's all up to you.

Story URL: http://www.drivesmartbc.ca/miscellaneous/know-you-go


Don't plow me in!

No one likes to spend significant effort shovelling their driveway only to have the plow come by and fill it in again.

Most of us grumble and get to work, but an Errington man decided to stand in the way and prevent the grader from doing this to his driveway. In what almost became more ways than one, he didn't have a leg to stand on.

Your kingdom ends at the property line and property for the highway begins on the other side. In order to construct your driveway access, you must have permission from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure if you live outside a municipality.

One term of that permission is that you are responsible for all maintenance including clearing snow from highway plowing operations at the access entrance.

Driveway construction and maintenance within a municipality is governed through bylaws. Most bylaws are on line these days, but information about your responsibilities may be obtained by contacting your local bylaw department.

Remember that bylaws may not be uniform throughout the province.

Highway maintenance outside municipal boundaries is conducted by private contractors. The specifications that they must follow include a chapter on highway snow removal. Roadside snow and ice control are dealt with in 3-320, but driveways are not specified as part of the services required.

One might be tempted to push all that snow right back out onto the highway where it came from. While it might be satisfying, there are two reasons that this would be a poor decision to make.

  • The Transportation Act forbids causing anything to be deposited on public highways without authorization in section 62(1).
  • If a collision resulted from the snow you moved onto the travelled lanes, you could be liable to civil action for damages. That could be very costly to you and the victims.

The Transportation Act also forbids obstructing or preventing another person from engaging in any activity if that activity is authorized by the Act. Highway maintenance is an activity within the many powers granted to the Minister.

The maintenance contractor would be operating under the authority of the minister.

Considering that we want speedy snow clearing from highways and not to have to spend more than we already do on taxes for road maintenance, perhaps the status quo is acceptable, even if it means that we have to shovel again after the plows pass by.

Story URL: http://www.drivesmartbc.ca/road-maintenance/hey-dont-plow-me

An agent in traffic court

"I'm not a lawyer," reads the e-mail, "I'm a grandfather, but I want to be able to help my grandson dispute a traffic ticket.

"At his first appearance on this ticket, the presiding justice refused to let me participate, telling me that my grandson was old enough to do it himself. There wasn't enough time to get to his hearing that day, so I want to try again. How do I get the court's permission to do this?"

Generally, you must be a lawyer to practice law in B.C. The definition of practising law is broad, but does not include the situation where one is doing so "not for or in the expectation of a fee, gain or reward, direct or indirect, from the person for whom the acts are performed."

In other words, you're doing it for free.

Where two practising lawyers do not have a business in the municipality or within eight kilometres of the court outside a municipality, anyone whose name is on the voter's list for the electoral area is entitled to act as an attorney for any party in the proceeding.

However, in both cases, you do so at the discretion of the presiding justice.

The first thing you should really ask yourself is whether you need assistance. If you do, will you choose a lawyer or a family member or friend to do the job for you?

If you don't choose the lawyer, does that family member or friend have the knowledge that you do not and the ability to present themselves calmly, rationally and respectfully to both the justice and the prosecution?

If you don't think so, your best choice may be to represent yourself.

If you must have help, perhaps the best thing that you can do to pave the way is to write to the court prior to your trial and explain the situation. Identify the person who will represent you and explain why you want them to act on your behalf.

Will they provide moral support, monitor and quietly suggest questions for you to ask when you conduct your trial or will they conduct the trial for you? (It's best if only one of you asks questions and makes submissions.)

Knowing this, the justice will be much better prepared and perhaps more likely to exercise their discretion to permit what you want.

I have written previously about sending your agent to traffic court when you are not able to attend personally. Your agent will be in the same situation here, unable to give any evidence for you during the trial.

You will have to testify if you want the court to hear your side of the story.

Keep in mind that the justice's discretion can be revoked at any time during the proceedings. They may step in when it becomes obvious that a helicopter parent's participation is preventing their child from being effective or the agent becomes unduly argumentative.

If a Charter defence is part of your trial, remember that you must notify the court registry of your intention prior to the trial date.

The hearing will then be set in provincial court rather than traffic court and it may be more difficult to appear with an agent.

Story URL: http://www.drivesmartbc.ca/traffic-tickets/more-agents-traffic-court

When the light is white

Priority for emergency vehicles at traffic lights

When you need the services of firefighters or paramedics seconds can seem like hours.

Sooner is always better in situations like this so some traffic lights are equipped with sensors that listen for sirens and change the signals to make way for emergency vehicles.

Not knowing what the priority signal lights meant led one driver to make a choice that could have resulted in a collision in a Ladysmith intersection.

As this lady approached a red traffic light, she could see a small flashing white light beside it on the mast. After she stopped, the green advanced, left-turn signal appeared. Not being able to see or hear any emergency vehicles around her, she moved into the intersection to turn left.

The sudden appearance of an unmarked police vehicle that was lit and screaming surprised her and caused her to slam on the brakes and stop in the middle of the intersection.

Aren't the traffic lights supposed to turn red for all directions in a case like this? After suffering a bit of a scare, this lady began to consider that because she had proceeded, she could have collided with the police vehicle and because she had stopped suddenly she could have been rear ended as well.

Fortunately, the police car made it though the intersection and there was no crash.

It makes sense that emergency vehicles approach a green light so that traffic in front of them is not stopped blocking the intersection.

The other directions face a red signal so that all other traffic stops to grant priority. This is what the white and blue lights tell drivers. If you face a white light, the emergency vehicles are approaching from behind you.

If you see a blue light, they are either coming toward you or from your left or right.

The blue-and-white lights flash while the traffic lights are being set to accommodate the path of the emergency traffic. When these lights are on steadily the signals have been set and will remain set until the emergency vehicle passes.

After this has happened, they will turn off and the traffic lights will resume normal operation.

So what happens when you see these priority lights in operation, but cannot see or hear an emergency vehicle? Is the emergency vehicle not yet visible as in this case or are they just malfunctioning?

While sirens seem loud, they can be difficult to hear when you have your windows up and your vehicle's sound system in operation. Before proceeding on the left turn signal, this driver could have opened her side window and listened carefully.

Emergency vehicles of any size can be difficult to see through surrounding traffic and unmarked police vehicles are at a particular disadvantage. Again, before proceeding, scan the intersection and it's approaches very carefully. Just because your light is green does not mean that you may safely proceed.

Since a cyclist has the same duties as the driver of a car, they must yield to emergency vehicles too.

Pedestrians are not included in the yielding to emergency vehicles legislation, but they must obey the signals at the intersection. Being perhaps the most vulnerable road user, it would be sensible to make way.

Story URL: http://drivesmartbc.ca/emergency-vehicles/priority-emergency-vehicles-traffic-lights.

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.

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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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