Slaps on the wrist

Sometimes, when I read articles on road safety, I come across one that really resonates with me. A story from 2008 written by Paul Hergott titled Drivers Need to Smarten Up When Out on the Road is one of them.

Paul, whose column also runs on Castanet on Tuesday, starts off by saying, "We’ve got ourselves a serious attitude problem. We see driving as a right."

Very little has changed since then except perhaps that this attitude is becoming even more prevalent on our roads in 2017.

Paul goes on to say "We then put a whole lot of police resources into enforcing those basic rules of the road. The enforcement, though, is hardly compelling. The fines associated with blowing through red lights and speeding are nothing more than slaps on the wrist."

This is an area where I have some experience, having spent about 25 years writing traffic tickets to drivers, trying to change the attitude of the motoring public.

In order to be effective, drivers who do not follow the rules need to believe that there will be consequences for not doing so. The chance of being caught must be seen as significant and once justifiably ticketed for an offence, there should be a proportionate penalty impressed.

If you continue to ignore the rules, you should find yourself without the privilege of driving for a time.

I knew the size of my patrol area and how many of my co-workers were on the road at any one time. From that knowledge alone, I knew that there was little chance that most drivers would see me or my partner during a shift much less risk being issued a ticket.

We would often remark on traffic enforcement that we did not encounter when driving around the province while on leave, marvelling at the distance we could travel and not encounter a marked police vehicle doing traffic enforcement.

Why count marked police vehicles? Probably because the majority of the traffic-enforcement fleet is a fully marked car. Even the unmarked cars tended to be Fords or Chevys with black, steel wheels and a forest of antennae on the roof.

The use of non-standard unmarked vehicles of many varieties that regularly move among the traffic units would go a long way toward keeping habitual offenders watching their rear view mirrors.

Unless you have a significant driving record and have committed a particularly serious offence, there is no risk in disputing the allegation in a traffic ticket. The worst that will likely happen is that you will have to pay the amount shown on the ticket.

I'll leave a driving prohibition up to the Superintendent is a common response made by the court to a request by the Crown during the penalty phase of a trial.

If you are not part of the Graduated Licensing Program, you cannot complain about the Superintendent being heavy handed. Under the Driver Improvement Program, a driver has to accumulate 15-19 penalty points within a two-year period before a prohibition might occur.

Excessive speeding, driving without due care and attention, driving without reasonable consideration for others or using an electronic device while driving are the exceptions to the rule. They are classed as high risk driving offences and if you are convicted twice in a one year period a prohibition will occur.

Our current system of enforcement likely works well enough for the average citizen who generally tries to follow the rules.

What Paul describes as a slap on the wrist is not much of a deterrent for those drivers who put themselves ahead of everyone else in traffic.

Story URL: http://www.drivesmartbc.ca/behaviour/weve-got-serious-attitude-problem


Convenience vs. catastrophe

Some incidents encountered during a career in policing stick with you for life and sometimes resurface later on as lessons learned.

This memory involved a mother dropping her young son off for a birthday party by pulling over and stopping on the right side of the street. He exited the car and excited to join the festivities, ran to the back and darted across the street.

He was struck and killed by a passing vehicle.

I was sent to the hospital at the beginning of the investigation to check on the mother and child because we did not know of the child's condition at the time. I knew the woman because her older son was in the Cub Pack where I was a leader.

Her anguish was terrible to see and I have no doubt that she will spend the rest of her life wishing that she had taken the extra time to pull into the driveway and let her son out of the car on safe ground.

One of my co-workers dealt with the driver of the vehicle that struck the boy, so I did not get to see him.

Do you think that he will ever forget that day? How many times will he go over the incident in his mind and try to see what he could have done to produce a different outcome?

All this flashed through my mind when I followed a pickup truck one morning last week. Children wait for the school bus on the side of the street near my home. There were already children and adults waiting ahead on my right.

The pickup moved over into the oncoming lane and stopped across from the group.

Instant deja vu.

I slowed immediately and proceeded at a walking pace between the group and the pickup, watching both sides for movement across the road. No one crossed and I was able to pass safely.

What was going on in the mind of the pickup driver? Why not pull over to the right side of the street and stop? The vehicle had no business being on the wrong side of the road.

In addition, the stop must be made with the vehicle at the right-hand edge of the roadway.

All the driver had really done was add more confusion to the situation.

In retrospect, despite what I had remembered from my past, the confusion extended to me as well.

I had a duty not to collide with a pedestrian, especially a child, and in this situation had already inferred the possibility of one being present.

In general, you are required to pass an overtaken vehicle on the left. There is an exception to this rule when there is an unobstructed lane on the right, as there was here.

However, that pass on the right can only be done if it is safe to do. Both the pickup on the wrong side of the road and the possibility of a child getting out of it to wait for the school bus made the circumstances unsafe.

I should have stopped and stayed stopped until the situation resolved itself. Moving into a position of possible conflict regardless of how slow I was going was a poor choice.

Sometimes we can make all manner of errors when we drive and it still turns out all right in the end.

However, don't let those errors become the default setting.

Story URL: http://www.drivesmartbc.ca/passing/convenience-vs-catastrophe

Distracted Driving Month

Hey, you! Yeah, you! Put the phone down and pay attention to where you're driving. 

In 2015, police wrote over 44,000 traffic tickets for distracted driving violations in B.C. ICBC tells us that about 30 per cent of crashes in B.C. involve driving while distracted.

Recent changes to the distracted driving legislation saw fines change from $196 to $348, plus $175 from four penalty points yet look around you in traffic and see how many drivers you can find with an electronic device in hand.

The last time that ICBC commissioned a poll on distracted driving almost everyone agreed that texting while driving was dangerous, but 40 per cent of drivers with cell phones had used it while driving in the preceding six months.

There is no good time to drive while using an electronic device, but this month could be even riskier for those who can't leave the phone alone.

A press release from ICBC this week advises that:

  • "ICBC, police and volunteers have worked together to plan more enforcement deployments across the province with over 70 police enforcement events and over 50 Cell Watch deployments with volunteers roadside this month. The aim is to give drivers the clear message that if they drive while distracted, they're even more likely to be caught."

So, if we know that this is not a good idea, why do some of us do it? Perhaps we could ask the same question of impaired drivers, speeders or those who don't stop at stop signs.

I suspect that it's a combination of putting one's perceived needs ahead of everyone else, our rationalization that we're good drivers so we can do this safely or we don't think that there is much chance of being caught.

There is even talk of cell phone use being an addiction that creates a compulsion to use it regardless of the circumstances that we find ourselves in at the time.

We should be very concerned that the age group most likely to ignore the rules surrounding electronics and distraction are the younger drivers. They neither have the skills nor the experience of an accomplished driver yet they willingly take on the risk of divided attention while driving.

The Traffic Injury Research Foundation has published a National Action Plan on Distracted Driving for Canada. While education, enforcement and legislation are in place, co-ordination among stakeholders is missing. Hopefully the formation of the Canadian Coalition on Distracted Driving will facilitate co-ordination going forward.

Ultimately, the solution to the problem comes down to the individual, that is me and you.

Together we can do things like shutting off our phone when we get into the vehicle, install an app like OneTap that silences notifications while driving, refusing to talk or text with friends and family while they drive, pull over and park to text or make a call.

Got the message?

Story URL: http://www.drivesmartbc.ca/distracted-driving/distracted-driving-month-bc

Tough being a pedestrian

Our provincial driving manual Learn to Drive Smart devotes an entire chapter to the See, Think, Do method.

See: The pedestrian waiting to cross the street in the intersection.

Think: There are no lines painted on the pavement, but it is an unmarked crosswalk and I have to stop for the pedestrian.

Do: Yield the right of way to the pedestrian and allow them to cross the street.

In a perfect world, drivers would have no hesitation in stopping for pedestrians, pedestrians would use a crosswalk properly and the authorities would construct roads to facilitate both.

All of these things ran through my mind this week as I waited to cross Craig Street at Lee Avenue in Parksville carrying a load of materials for my Elder College seminar on Safe Driving for Seniors.

Drivers were looking at me as they passed by, but none of them stopped to let me cross. Had my hands not been occupied, I could have chosen to hold an arm out at shoulder height pointing across the road to indicate to them that I wanted to cross.

This would make my intention obvious and their duty to stop more likely to occur.

As a driver, I know that I find the decision to stop for pedestrians can be difficult at times.

The tendency is to carry on through rather than change what you are doing. This failure can be seen in many other driving situations such as following the “slow down, move over” rules or by passing other traffic on the right.

To make matters more difficult, if I walked straight across the T intersection, I would walk right into the side of a car parked at the curb on the opposite side.

The Motor Vehicle Act in section 189(1) prohibits the stopping, standing or parking of vehicles inside an intersection unless permitted by a sign; it also forbids parking on a crosswalk.

In the case of McKee v McCoy, Justice Shaw examines the conditions required to show the existence of an unmarked crosswalk at a municipal intersection.

Virtually any improvement of the shoulder of a highway would qualify as sidewalk area and result in the presence of an unmarked crosswalk in the intersection. This is not needed here as there is a sidewalk on both sides of the street.

The City of Parksville has painted lines on the pavement that would give drivers the impression that parking is permitted on Craig Street across from Lee Road, but did not carry through by posting the necessary signs.

It would appear that there was also no consideration of the unmarked crosswalk locations, but provision was made for a fire hydrant. This situation repeats itself at other nearby intersections.

The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure does publish a Pedestrian Crossing Control Manual for British Columbia that is intended to act as a guide for implementing pedestrian crossing standards.

While there are rules governing how pedestrians must conduct themselves, there is a strong onus on the driver to watch out for them on the highway. It is better to stop for a pedestrian when you do not need to than to drive on when you should not.

Story URL: http://www.drivesmartbc.ca/government/its-not-easy-being-pedestrian

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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