Is it really a speed trap?

Bring back photo radar? 

I made that suggestion at the end of my last column, which was about speed traps.

Heck of a use of the word “trap,” by the way. The word is suggestive of unfair surprise.

You’d have to be asleep at the wheel to be surprised by being more than 10 kilometres an hour over a clearly posted speed limit. Isn’t that the cut-off?

Nobody’s pulled over for “slipping” by a kilometre or two. Or three. Or five. Or eight. Heck of a “slip” to get all the way past 10.

The same cognitive distraction that allows “slipping” more than 10 kilometres over the clearly posted speed limit causes most crashes.

Please understand: I’m not saying that exceeding a posted speed limit is the problem. 

Speeding just makes crashes worse. Much worse. Speed does kill, it’s just not what causes most crashes.

Fifty per cent of the car crash cases I handle are when a distracted driver fails to process a road hazard that is plainly visible through the windshield.

Not a shockingly surprising road hazard. Simply the slowing and stopping of traffic. Yes, 50 per cent of car crashes I handle are where a driver crashes into the back of a stopped vehicle.

The “cash cow” success of speed traps is a clear indication of our horribly low level of awareness behind the wheel. It’s like a canary in the mine. If the canary dies, it’s likely unsafe down there.

If drivers have trouble keeping their vehicles within 10 km per hour of the speed limit, it’s unsafe out there.

No wonder ICBC liability insurance rates are so high.

If we could only raise the level of driver awareness. If we were to do so even up to the minimal level of keeping track of our speed, we would increase safety and decrease crashes.

How about more speed traps?

Behavioural change requires consistent reinforcement. Speed traps around every corner would provide that level of reinforcement.

But that would be prohibitively expensive. We already spend a boat load of money on policing. We need our police to be spending their days catching bad guys, not holding radar guns.

If only there were a less expensive alternative.

If only there was some sort of monitoring mechanism that would automatically deliver stinging consequences when the mind wanders enough that a posted speed limit is exceeded by more than 10 km/h.

Oh right, the mechanism exists. Photo radar!

Governments are resistant to doing what’s right when “what’s right” will get them voted out of office.

Come together, people. Let’s give our political leaders the strong message that bringing back photo radar will be good for votes instead of bad.


We didn't mean to speed

Do speed traps bug you?

It’s like shooting fish in a barrel, set up along the safest stretches of road with ridiculously low speed limits.

And along boring stretches of highway where a heavy foot causes your speed to creep up.

Cha ching, cha ching, cha ching. What a way to make your quota. Stupid money grab.

Earn your tickets! Go after aggressive drivers. They choose their dangerous driving behaviours, intentionally put our lives at risk.

We salute you when you pull over those hotheads. We smile, recognizing the hothead vehicle that had burned past us moments before, stopped at the side of the road by a ghost car.

Leave the rest of us alone. We didn’t intend to speed. We simply lost track.

Speed traps are especially unfair along those many Okanagan corridors where the speed limits are as fickle as bitcoin values. How can we be expected to keep track? It’s easy to miss all those speed changes.

We regularly wonder, with so many fluctuations, what the current speed is. And have to keep our eyes peeled for the next speed limit sign to get back on track.

The only guarantee against a speeding ticket is paying constant, direct attention to the roadway. You don’t expect that of us, do you?

Hmmmmm... Might that be the point?

Driving requires precious little technical skill. Ironically, that might be a cause of our road safety nightmare.

It’s too easy. So easy that we complain when our minds wander to the point of having trouble keeping track of the speed limit.

To miss a speed limit reduction, you’ve got to be so distracted that you miss both the “reduced speed ahead” warning as well as the new speed limit sign.

Can you guess the most common type of crash I handle in my legal practice?

It’s not aggressive drivers. Aggressive driver crashes are very, very few and far between. Not impaired drivers either.

It’s where traffic has come to a stop. It might be congestion, a traffic light, or simply a right turn situation where a vehicle is waiting to merge.

And moments later, an absent-minded driver crashes into the back of the stopped traffic.

That’s 50 per cent of the cases I handle.

Are you so tuned out that you have trouble keeping track of speed changes? You are a much bigger problem than the jerk burning past you on the highway.

Aggressive drivers are a problem, and must be stopped, but they are much safer than absent-minded motorists. At least they’re paying attention.

We’ve dumbed down driving to the point that we can get away with absent-minded “autopilot” most of the time. And the more we get away with it, the more complacent we become.

We are lulled into believing we’re driving safely because we make it from point A to point B. Again and again and again.

To the point that we crash into the backs of stopped vehicles.

The old days were different.

There was a natural mechanism that kept our brains on the task at hand: a standard transmission. To some (most?) of you, a standard transmission is about as foreign a concept as a rotary dial telephone.  

Back in the day, there was a stick coming out of the floor that you had to move around to keep your vehicle in an optimum gear. It was a natural mechanism that constantly pulled your brain back to the task at hand.

I bet we’d have an immediate reduction of crashes simply by mandating standard transmissions.

Returning to the rotary dial telephone would help too. A wandering brain is bad. A brain focused on a telephone discussion or texting exchange is even worse.

We’re not bad people. It’s easy to get bored. Our powerful minds wander easily. We need a mechanism to keep our attention where it belongs: constantly and vigilantly on the road ahead. 

I have a mechanism that I’ve written about before. I call it “doing the 10 and 2."

Very simply, keeping your hands at particular positions on the steering wheel requires conscious thought. When I notice my hands wandering to more comfortable positions like an arm rest or my lap, I am clued in to put my brain back where it belongs.

Prefer the “9 and 3” or “8 and 4”? Do your research and choose whatever you like. Make a conscious effort to stick to whatever you choose and it might work for you as well.

Let me know how it works for you.

And how about smiling, instead of grumbling, as you drive ticketless by the next “speed trap” you encounter. The only drivers they are trapping are the most dangerous drivers on the road, absent-minded ones who need to be snapped to attention.

Better yet, how about petitioning our government to bring back photo radar. What a waste of police resources to “speed trap” absent minded motorists when that can be done automatically.

Lying on your bed of nails

According to one internet source, the saying first appeared in a late 1500s Middle French proverb “comme on faist son lict, on le treuve” (“As one makes his/her bed, one finds it.”). 

Another source explains that back in the day, a permanent bed was a luxury, and most people had to stuff a sack with straw every night for use as a bed.

If you make a cruddy bed, you’re stuck with sleeping in a bed that’s cruddy.

It has it’s own ring of justice, doesn’t it?

Many injured victims hoping to achieve fair, financial compensation for their injuries and losses, have made an incredibly cruddy bed.

Avoiding the taxman is the most common “cruddy bed” problem I face.

According to Statistics Canada, underground economic activity for 2013 (the most recent statistic provided) totaled $45.6 billion.

How many servers, hair stylists, spa practitioners or strippers report their actual tips, rather than some much reduced industry standard that keeps them under the radar of the Canada Revenue Agency?

How many mechanics, construction workers, renovators and so many others fail to report cash jobs?

How many rich folks hide their money in off-shore accounts?

Our laws entitle injured victims to recover fair, financial compensation for their injuries and losses. That includes income losses based on previously unreported or underreported income.

Yes. It’s true. Does that sound unfair? 

Taking the extreme example of a marginalized worker who reports none of their income, should a stripper be stripped of his or her rights to income losses caused by a negligent driver who crashes into the back of his or her stopped vehicle?

But if the crash disables the stripper from ever working again, it’s not so easy as the stripper saying, “This is what I had been making in the years leading up to the crash”.

The onus is always on the injured victim to prove their case. Without a track record of reported income, it can be incredibly difficult to prove pre-crash earnings. Especially when those hiding from the tax man eliminate all traces of the unreported income.

And even if you manage to prove that pre-crash income, ICBC can very reasonably ask the question:

“You chose to lie to the Canada Revenue Agency to avoid tax, how do we know you’re not lying now about your injuries and how they are impacting on you?”

Fortunately, injured victims do not live in a vacuum. As much as they put on a brave face, crash injuries are hard to hide. Friends, neighbours, work colleagues, family members and others can independently prove many, if not most, cases.

But there can be much uglier beds.

You make an extra cruddy bed if you use your low reported income to collect welfare benefits.

Ick! It’s one thing failing to pay your fair share of taxes. It’s quite another to pick-pocket the hard earned income of those of us who do!

It gets worse.

Is there anything less palatable than a deadbeat dad?

Your ex comes after you for child support. The court process requires you to disclose your income through a sworn financial statement. You’ve done well hiding your income from the Canada Revenue Agency, so you carry on the charade with the court.

You end up having to pay lower child support.

But if a negligent driver takes away your ability to work, how do you get around that sworn financial disclosure?

Now, ICBC can ask:

“You lied to the court, before, to avoid child support. How do we know you’re not lying to the court, now?”

That’s a bed made of nails, pointy side up.

Have you been making a cruddy bed? Consider changing your ways. Karma can be a real bitch.


Distracted to death?

Distracted driving penalties are increasing. Again. 

And immediate roadside driving prohibitions (like those for impaired driving) might be coming.

Goodness. Much ado about distracted driving.

Would it be fair for distracted driving penalties to be as swift and severe as those for impaired driving?

Consider which behaviour is more deserving of swift and severe consequences.

Which is a clear, conscious choice?

Driving after drinking alcohol is a clear, conscious choice. Absolutely. But that’s not the offence. The offence is doing so with a blood-alcohol concentration at or above 0.05.

Depending on gender, weight and size, it could take as little as two or as many as five drinks over a two-hour period to reach 0.05.

You might get it wrong. Adding to the problem, the consumption of any alcohol will impact on your ability to monitor that consumption!

Don’t you dare interpret me as making light of the serious problem of impaired driving, by the way. I am simply comparing the 0.05 offence with distracted driving on the basis of conscious choice.

Neither cellphone use, nor texting can be “mistakenly” engaged in. Doing so while driving is a conscious choice.

A conscious choice to engage in an illegal driving behaviour that you know is dangerous. Doesn’t that cry out for swift and severe consequences?

Look at speeding as a comparison.

Exceeding a posted speed limit can occur absent-mindedly and results in a fine. Excessive speeding results in the immediate impoundment of your vehicle.

Do we need swift and severe consequences to curb distracted driving? Let’s look at the history of distracted driving penalties in British Columbia.

We prohibited distracted driving as of Jan. 1, 2010, with a fine of $167.

A lack of effectiveness led to a change effective June 1, 2016.The fine increased from $167. to $368, along with four points there was a total financial hit for a first time offender of $543. A second offence resulted in fines and points costing up to $1,256.

That increase didn’t do much to change driver behaviours. According to Solicitor General Mike Farnworth, the number of distracted driving tickets issued between June, 2016 and June, 2017 (44,000) was a reduction of only 13 per cent from the year before.

Now we have another increase coming as of March 1, 2018. No change for first time offenders, but a second offence will come with up to a whopping $1,996 of fines and points.

When announcing the latest change, our Attorney General was quoted as saying:

“Once implemented, this change will treat distracted driving as the serious high-risk behaviour that it is; one that is on par with impaired driving and excessive speeding."

I agree. It is a serious high-risk behaviour on par with impaired driving and excessive speeding. But no, this change does not bring the consequences up to those levels.

A first offender will still drive way with a few hundred dollars of fines and points. We need swift and severe.

But Houston, we have a problem. We have a very big problem.

Let’s say we get there. Let’s say we finally impose swift and severe consequences for distracted driving.

Let’s say that those consequences result in a meaningful reduction of distracted driving.

What would that accomplish? Unfortunately, not fewer distracted drivers.

I’m playing fast and loose with the term "distracted driver."

The law in British Columbia defines a distracted driver as one who is using a handheld electronic device.

The more expensive you make it to use a handheld electronic device while driving, the more financial incentive you give drivers to purchase hands free technology.

So they can engage in the exact same activities hands free. And do so under the full sanction of the law.

But that’s much safer, isn’t it? That’s not distracted driving, is it?

Way back in 2009, the year before we banned the use of hand held electronic devices, the British Columbia government did their research. 

The results of that research was published in a discussion paper, which you can find through this link.

Quoting from the executive summary: 

“In both simulated and real driving environments, the use of electronic devices has been shown to result in crashes and near misses. Drivers fail to process approximately 50 per cent of the visual information in their driving environment when they are using electronic communication devices. Evidence also concludes that there is no difference between the cognitive diversion associated with hands-free and hand-held cell phone use.”

That might blow your mind. I get it. Not only is it difficult to understand, your own government has been telling you since 2010 that it’s the hand-held version that’s dangerous, impliedly putting up billboards saying, “Hands free cellphone use and texting is perfectly safe."

Are you sincerely interested in understanding why the hands-free use of cellphones and texting is just as (if not more) dangerous?  

Please read this very readable explanation called Understanding the distracted brain put out by the United States National Safety Council.

Not a reader? Prefer to learn visually? Please check out this Myth Busters episode comparing hand held and hands free cell phone use. Hardly scientific, but it might help you get it.

Has the ban of hand held-electronic devices done anything to make our roads safer? No. Not only are the penalties still inadequate, but the very best outcome is a transition to the hands free version that’s just as dangerous.

I am going to take this a step further. Banning hand-held electronic devices while driving, with increasing penalties, is actually making things worse.

Before the change in the law in 2010, the driving public was starting to understand that we should keep our phones in the truck of the car. By imposing a ban on only the hand held version, we sent the loud and clear message that hands free cell phone use and texting are safe. 

As we became more and more dependent on our electronic devices, we became more and more inclined to use them while driving. Safety conscious drivers have been led to believe, by government policy, that it is safe so long as we put the money into hands free technology.

I think it’s important to note that our government specifically considered this possibility back in 2009. Quoting from their very own discussion paper:

“Legislation that bans only hand-held cell conversations conflicts with the research that has consistently found no difference in the degree of distraction between hand-held and hands-free cell conversations. As a result, these laws may not provide the expected benefits and may even generate harmful indirect impacts such as a false sense of security for those who talk on hands-free devices while driving.”

A conspiracy theorist would think that the government is somehow profiting from the huge hands-free technology industry.

We need an outright ban of the use of electronic devices while driving. We needed it back in 2010 and we need it even more now. A clear message must be sent to the driving public that cell phone use and texting have no place behind the wheel.

Do you agree? Sign my petition

Disagree? Please do the miniscule amount of research it will take to become informed and then sign my petition.

More Achieving Justice articles

About the Author

Paul Hergott began practicing law in 1995, in a general litigation practice. Of the various areas of litigation, he became most drawn to, and passionate about, pursuing fair compensation for injured victims. This gradually became his exclusive area of practice.

In 2007, Paul opened Hergott Law, a boutique personal injury law firm in the Central Interior, serving personal injury clients from all over British Columbia. Paul’s practice is restricted to acting only for the injured victim, never for ICBC or for other insurance companies.

Paul became a weekly newspaper columnist in January of 2007, when his first column entitled “It’s not about screwing the Insurance Company” was published. 

Please feel free to email or call Paul (1.855.437.4688) with legal issues you might like him to write about in his column, or to offer your feedback about something he has written.

Email:   [email protected]
Firm website:  www.hlaw.ca
Achieving Justice Legal Blog:  http://www.hlaw.ca/category/all-columns/
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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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