Science behind the N

“Can I go on a short drive with a new driver with other people in the car?”

For those unfamiliar with British Columbia’s graduating licensing program, the last stage of the process is a New Driver. A New Driver must display an N and is restricted to one passenger who is not their immediate family.

My teenage daughter was asking my permission to get a ride home with a New Driver who was taking other friends home as well.

It was a text message. My texted response: “Would you go for a short drive if he was drunk?”

I followed, in quick succession, with the following texts:

“What if there were no seatbelts?”

“What if he was talking the whole time on his cell phone?”

“Stoned on weed…?”

She emphatically affirmed that she would not be a passenger in any of those scenarios.

Why is the New Driver passenger restriction any different for her?

She has learned that some rules are more important than others. For the unimportant rules, a little cheating is ok, right?

Our last visit to Vancouver’s Science World is an example. Kids have to be at least 13, which they call a youth, to be unaccompanied. It’s not good enough for an 11 year old to be accompanied by his 15-year-old sister.

Yes, we tried to get away with breaking that rule. Hopefully, next time, our son will know better than to shout out “I am not a youth!” while we’re buying their tickets!

Applying that logic, my daughter, obviously didn’t think the New Driver passenger restriction was an important rule.

Is it?

If the rule is about driver distraction, why does it not apply to immediate family members? Why is there no restriction at all on number of passengers if a 25-year-old licence holder is sitting beside you?

A little googling will give you the answer. Passenger restrictions for new drivers are based on science.

And, yes, they are important.

Check out this study from May, 2012: Teen Driver Risk in Relation to Age and Number of Passengers. 

Having even one passenger under age 21 increases a 16-17 year old’s risk of a fatal crash by 44 per cent. 

With two passengers, the risk is doubled.

With three or four, it’s quadrupled.

Conversely, having an older passenger (35 years or older in this study) actually decreases the risk by 62 per cent.

Why is it more dangerous for teenagers to have peer passengers? It’s interesting stuff that I could not possibly “nutshell” in a convincing way in this column. 

One issue, apparently, is that research has found that the prefrontal cortex of the brain — the region responsible for weighing the consequences of risky behavior — is the last part of the brain to develop.

According to one study, “Novice drivers (15 to 17 years old) are at a distinct disadvantage, not only because of their limited driving experience, but also because of their incomplete brain development.”

Add in peer pressure.

Add in an inclination to display a reckless disregard for authority, and show off to their peers.

Simply, new drivers are more easily distracted and more likely to take risks when other teenagers are in the vehicle.

Are you a parent of a teen? Help them understand that these rules are important. 

Here is a neat video tool that might assist you and your teen understand and therefore reduce the risks of teen driving.

If driver safety isn’t enough of a motivator, perhaps talk practically to your teen about the traffic ticket and points the driver will face if caught by the police. 

The vehicle occupants could agree, in advance, to pitch in for the fine. 

The three points against the driver’s license cannot be (which depending on circumstances could dramatically increase vehicle insurance and/or cause the driver to lose the license altogether). A good friend would not let their friend take that risk.


Pig defender gets justice

Is there any sweeter justice than when someone tries to be nasty, but it blows up in their face?

Even sweeter if the intended victim manages to benefit from the nasty conduct.

Sweet justice was achieved after an animal rights activist in Ontario was reported to police for feeding an “unknown liquid” to thirsty pigs.

You might have read news headlines and reports about this incident. The most reliable telling of the story comes from Mr. Justice D.A. Harris in his May 4, 2017, decision acquitting Anita Kranjc of the criminal charge of mischief (R. v. Krajnc, 2017 ONCJ 281). I found it incredibly entertaining and recommend that you read it

It was, and still is, a “fairly routine” event for animal rights activists to gather on a traffic island, placards in hand, 100 metres away from a certain slaughterhouse in Ontario. They gather to “bear witness” to and protest against the suffering of pigs being delivered for slaughter.

Transport trucks loaded with pigs pull up to the red light at this last intersection before the slaughterhouse. This gives the activists an opportunity to interact with the pigs through open air sides of the trailers.

Activists at times speak to the pigs, pet them, and offer them water. These interactions are recorded and posted on social media.

Judge Harris described Anita’s reason for offering the pigs water: “…Ms. Krajnc believes that by providing water when the pigs are thirsty she hopes to provide some relief, even if it is only incremental, and only for a moment.”

Mr. Justice Harris described the evens of June 22, 2015 as follows: 

“…the truck driver got out of the truck and approached the protester. He questioned what she was doing. She replied that she was giving water to the pigs, that they were thirsty. He told her to stop. He called her a rude name. She continued to give water to the pigs until he got back into the truck and drove off to the slaughterhouse.”

The truck driver called his employer. The police were called and Ms. Krajnc was charged with a criminal offence called “mischief.”

The offence of mischief comes from section 430 of the Criminal Code. A person commits mischief by willfully obstructing, interrupting or interfering with the lawful use of property.

The judge set out the prosecution theory as being that “Ms. Krajnc gave ‘an unknown substance/possible contaminant’ to the pigs thereby creating a risk that the slaughterhouse would refuse to take them.” 

Obviously, this was the concern that would have been expressed by the farm representative who called the police. 

When looking at the evidence, it became very obvious that it was a baseless concern. Not only was it baseless, the evidence pointed to it not even being a genuinely held concern:

Ms. Krajnc offered to give the bottle of water to the truck driver to have it tested, but he refused the offer;
The truck driver did not turn the truck around to return the potentially contaminated pigs back to the farm. 

He continued straight on to the slaughterhouse. Once there, he didn’t tell anyone about the potential contamination. 

The judge noted that he was “…satisfied that the driver did not do this in order to sneak a load of contaminated pigs into the slaughterhouse.”; and the slaughterhouse did not refuse to accept the truckload of pigs, even though they were aware of protesters giving water to pigs.

The judge said that “As far as I know, every pig on that truck went on to be slaughtered and processed and passed on to consumers in the usual fashion.”

The judge went on to note that the slaughterhouse had never refused to accept a load of pigs by reason of protesters giving them water;

A baseless concern, not genuinely held, resulting in a criminal charge? How’s that for “nasty!”

The sweet justice?

Ms. Krajnc and her cause got a whole lot more media (and therefore public) attention than she could have hoped for standing on a traffic island holding banners and placards.

It was a five-day trial, the time occupied mostly by expert witnesses called by Ms. Krajnc’s defence team, including:

  • Dr. Lori Marino who gave evidence that pigs are similar to dogs in level of intelligence and emotional and psychological characteristics, have a complex communication system and a number of different personality traits. They empathize, experience joy and happiness, and are sentient (capable of feeling good or bad depending on circumstances). She also gave evidence that they suffer both physically as well as psychologically in a factory farm setting;
  • Prof. Tony Weis, an expert in geography and environmental studies, who “…warned that as the population of the Earth grows, using factory farms to create animal meat for human consumption will result in humanity’s inability to feed itself.”  He also “…discussed the concerns about how factory farming is a prime cause of greenhouse gas emissions and global warming”
  • Dr. David Jenkins, an expert on human nutrition, who provided his opinions about how eating meat, and processed meat in particular, contributes to cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

Mr. Justice Harris noted that the courtroom was full of spectators on each of the five days, with every seat taken and many sitting on the floor. Members of the press sat in what normally would be the prisoner’s box. Permission was granted to send live tweets of the proceedings.

The irony of the situation was specifically referred to by the judge. Quoting paragraphs 131 and 132 of his decision:

  • [131] That may be the most ironic aspect of this case. The fact that Ms. Krajnc gave water to a pig received limited attention initially. In contrast to that, Ms. Krajnc being charged and tried, with five days of evidence, one day of submissions, and one day for this judgment along with countless remand appearances have provided her and her movement with all of the publicity they could hope for.
  • [132] Conversely, the act of prosecuting Ms. Krajnc has probably led to enough bad publicity for the pork industry that it might be said that the prosecution actually accomplished what they accused Ms. Krajnc of trying to do.

I grew up on a small farm outside of Melville, Sask. We raised hogs, and I grew up on a meat and potatoes diet, a diet I continue to enjoy. If ever there was a person least likely to be swayed by the message of activists like Ms. Krajnc, it might be me.

Our farm environment was completely different from that of a “factory farm.” I fondly remember the pigs, and feeling protective of any notion of their suffering. I was reminded, reading about the evidence in this case, of the darling “personalities” of the pigs we raised. 

I was also reminded of the environmental and health issues that have come to my attention from time to time over the years.

I confess to feeling like I might seriously reconsider my own meat consumption. Sweet justice, indeed.

Are you at fault for helping?

Here’s a who-are-you riddle.

A car stalls in traffic; you lend a hand to push it off the road.

A vehicle is stuck in snow; you help digging or pushing it out.

Someone needs a boost; you pull in and dig out your cables.

Who are you? You’re a Canadian! Most likely from Saskatchewan?

Is it something in the water? It feels good to lend a hand.

The stranded motorist is very appreciative and you go away with a song in your heart.

But what if something goes wrong.

You’re much too out of shape to be pushing a vehicle and herniate a disk in your back.

You slip and fall on the icy road and fracture your arm.

The battery explodes, the acid causing serious damage to your eyes (for instruction about how to safely boost a battery, please read The dangers of boosting a car battery.

Lending a hand can leave you with serious injury. Injuries can lead to income loss and other financial consequences.

Who is responsible for those consequences?

Let’s say the stranded motorist could not have been more “at fault” for becoming stranded. 

He or she ran out of gas, got stuck by grossly overdriving icy conditions or drained the battery by blaring a huge aftermarket car stereo.

It doesn’t matter. It is the law of British Columbia that you alone suffer those consequences.

To illustrate a distinction in the law, I used examples where the stranded motorist situation was not a true emergency. The law is different if your motivation was to save someone from imminent danger.

The distinction was discussed by Madam Justice Russell in the case of Smith v. Tucker, 2007 BCSC 489

Smith ignored the low fuel warning and “distance to empty” features of the Ford F350 she was driving and ran out of gas. As described by the judge, she then

  • “…shifted the truck into neutral, got out of the truck, began pushing against the door frame with one hand and steering the truck with the other, with the door open.”

Really?  Pushing an F350? Anyway, I’ll go on.

Mr. Tucker came on the scene. He jumped to Smith’s rescue and helped push the truck to the curb. The physical exertion caused Tucker to suffer a severed tendon in his leg. It was surgically repaired, but he was left with a permanent, partial disability.

Madam Justice Russel reviews the “Law Relating to Rescuers” starting at paragraph 19 of the decision, and then “The Requirement of Imminent Peril in Rescue Cases” starting at paragraph 26.

If a driver’s negligence “…has created some hazard, danger or situation of imminent peril to a victim or potential victims…”, he or she is responsible for injuries suffered by a good Samaritan who comes to the rescue.

In the case of Smith v. Tucker, though, Russel found that Smith’s stalled truck did not create a situation of imminent peril. 

She noted that “there was no collision between any vehicles; no one suffered injury as a result of the truck stalling…other motorists were sensibly not attempting to drive past her vehicle…[t]he defendant was not trapped in her vehicle, nor was she rendered helpless by the incident.”

In the result Tucker was left to bear the full losses arising from his injury. He was not able to access Smith’s liability insurance policy for compensation.

Should this state of the law cause hesitation before you do the “Canadian thing” and help folks out?

A little hesitation is a good thing. 

It’s always best to calmly assess potential risks before diving in to do anything, including helping someone stranded on the road.

Knowing that you will bear the full extent of your losses if an injury occurs will naturally lead to taking full responsibility and ownership for your own safety and greatly reduce the chance of injury.


Bee aware when you drive

Sequel alert!  

My words from the last column: “If swerving sharply or slamming on your brakes is your automatic reaction to a small, furry creature darting in front of your car, please work on changing that.”

Or consider taking the bus?

When we get behind the wheel, we take on a legal duty to all other road users.

That duty, going well beyond the rules of the road set out in the Motor Vehicle Act, is not to expose them to unnecessary risk of harm.

Take the idiotic law prohibiting hand held cellphone use, for example.

I’ve written before about how prohibiting one (hand held) and not the other (hands free) is a special kind of stupid. The science is clear that both are similarly distracting.

Even though the hands-free version won’t get you ticket, it is still negligent because it exposes other road users to unnecessary risk of harm in the same way the hand held version does.

Same thing with blindly slamming on brakes for small animals. There is nothing in the Motor Vehicle Act that prohibits that dangerous behaviour.

If you are unable to react safely to a small animal on the road, you are a ticking time bomb. The bomb blows when your reactionary slam on the brakes causes a crash.

What about a spider crawling out from behind the steering wheel of a person with a frantic fear of spiders?

Or a bee lands on the bare skin of your stomach?

The bee nightmare was the subject of a lawsuit. The early 1970s decision of our Court of Appeal is Sinclair v. Nyehold, 29 D.L.R. (3d) 614.

A shirtless fellow was driving around a left curve with his window open.

The judge told the story:

“…a bee flew into the car and landed on his bare torso (he was not wearing a shirt). He glanced down and observed it was alive and crawling up his stomach.”

The fellow “…was so engrossed with the bee that he made no attempt to apply his brakes or to hold his car its proper course.”

This caused the vehicle to continue turning to the left after the curve and into oncoming traffic, resulting in a crash.

There had been a trial, with a jury. The jury did not find the bare-bellied bee basket-case (my words) at fault.

On appeal, the highest court in British Columbia came to the opposite conclusion.

The court outlined the driver’s legal duty:

“…to conduct himself as not to expose other uses of the highway to unnecessary risk of harm by default in the management of his car ‘in respect of reasonable care, reasonable skill or reasonable self-possession, whether in emergencies or ordinary circumstances.’”

The driver’s lack of “competent self-command” (the words of the judge) was negligent, exposing other road users to unnecessary risk of harm.

If you have a lack of competent self-command, whether in the face of small, furry animals darting out in front of your car, a spider crawling out from your steering wheel or a bee landing on your bare tummy, you are a ticking time bomb.

What might you do to minimize the risk you pose to other road users?

You might consider getting psychological help to work through your issues.

Alternatively, if spiders are your thing, how about scour your vehicle for spiders before sitting behind the wheel, eliminating the risk of a surprise appearance.

If a bee would throw you in a tizzy, how about drive with your windows closed.

Or take the bus. Driving is a very serious responsibility. If you cannot exercise “competent self-command,” you shouldn’t be driving.

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/
One Crash is Too Many Road Safety Campaign: www.onecrashistoomany.com
Google Plus:  https://plus.google.com/+HlawCanada/posts
Facebook:  www.facebook.com/personalinjurylawfirm
Twitter:   twitter.com/Hergott_Law

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

Previous Stories