Justice without a ticket

Restorative justice: An alternative to the traffic ticket

Quite some time ago, I wrote about an initiative to trade your ticket for driver training.

I was pleased with the outcome of the one instance that I tried on my own, but the program never took off as the provincial government required the RCMP to provide it to all drivers if it were implemented.

The Victoria Police Department is trying something similar through Restorative Justice Victoria.

An article in the Victoria Times Colonist reports that Const. Sean Millard implemented his idea as a pilot project that exchanged a distracted driving ticket for a three-hour restorative justice session on Dec. 10, 2017.

Thirty-two drivers ranging in age from 20 to 60 chose to participate instead of paying the $543 fine.

These drivers completed cognitive tests that demonstrated how difficult simple tasks become when you’re distracted. They heard personal stories, including those of a retired firefighter who talked about having to pry people out of vehicles in crashes caused by distracted driving.

Karen Bowman, who founded Drop It and Drive, ran parts of the workshop. In founding Drop It and Drive Karen developed a program delivery method to achieve behavioural change through imparting knowledge, science and practical, usable tools in a highly efficient and engaging manner.

Restorative justice helps people understand how their actions affect others to create long-lasting change. The programs, if they exist in your community, are run by volunteers. 

Participation in a restorative justice program like this one starts with a referral by the police, and this is likely going to be the biggest hurdle.

One traffic court judicial justice that I have spoken with commented on officer resistance to step outside the normal procedure for dealing with ticket disputes, even when suggested by the court.

Referral also depends on having an appropriate program in place with your restorative justice group along with the needed volunteers to deliver it. If you want to make a difference in your community, consider volunteering.

Starting with Road Safety Vision in 2001, Canada's national road safety strategy contained public education initiatives and targeted high risk driving behaviour.

Known as the Road Safety Strategy 2025 today, this restorative justice program neatly fits that target and recognizes that the traffic ticket is not the only way to change driving behaviour for the better.

Should we have to take drivers by the hand and explain to them that distracted driving is dangerous and they should not do it? I think not, but part of the problem is that we tend to let our behaviours change to suit our perceived risk

If you cannot leave your phone alone, then the more effective ways that there are to convince you that you should, the better off we'll all be.

Story URL: https://www.drivesmartbc.ca/distracted-driving/restorative-justice-alternative-traffic-ticket


The wrong mindset

The "I Can Get Away With It" mindset

I've written before about the three Es of road safety, education, engineering and enforcement. The enforcement component was the subject of a comment to me concerning a visible police presence on our highways.

The observation was that unmarked cars and what seems like minimal enforcement creates a "I can get away with it" mindset.

The fleet at the last traffic unit that I worked at consisted of seven vehicles:

  • two unmarked
  • two "clean roof"
  • three fully marked cars.

One of the unmarked cars was only available for enforcement work if the supervisors weren't working or were otherwise occupied. Policy dictated the percentage of cars that could be anything less than fully marked.

The unmarked cars were popular even though they were relatively easy to identify as police vehicles if you were paying attention. Plain trim, black steel wheels and antennas on the roof tend to stick out.

Even so, you tended to find more bad driving behaviour patrolling in the unmarked car than you would when using a fully marked vehicle. My experience was also that I was able to deal with drivers that I did not see misbehaving otherwise.

Add an unconventional unmarked vehicle to the mix and it got more interesting. We were envious of a neighbouring traffic unit that had an unmarked pickup truck with a canopy.

Drivers did all sorts of foolish things around it, probably because they did not associate it with active traffic enforcement.

Our supervisor often expressed his desire to see flashing lights at the roadside. He said that the public couldn't tell whether we were writing tickets or warnings and the flashing lights served to remind them that if they didn't behave, the next driver pulled over might be them.

This halo effect could be very short lived. Occasionally, I would entertain myself by leaving the radar running while I wrote a ticket so I was able to keep and eye on what was overtaking us.

A vehicle would come into view travelling at a speed in excess of the limit, see the flashing lights and slow down. Sometimes they even slowed to a speed under the limit.

After they passed, I would frequently see their speed creep back up to the initial speed over the limit before the vehicle went out of sight.

I wonder whether flashing lights deter bad driving behaviour or if it only discourages it in places where they are seen frequently. After all, it is some other driver that is receiving police attention, not you, so why worry?

My old patrol area consisted of about 350 kilometres of numbered highway. My shift partner and I more often than not were the only dedicated traffic enforcement present save for the overlap with the day or afternoon shift depending on which shift we were working.

The chance of running into either one of us was slim and truthfully, became even slimmer the farther away you were from the detachment.

I don't agree that unmarked cars are part of the visible enforcement deficit, but the scope of the job given the size of our province contributes to a feeling of minimal enforcement and an "I can get away with it" mindset.

Story URL: http://www.drivesmartbc.ca/behaviour/i-can-get-away-it-mindset

Enhanced road assessment

The new year will bring changes to how drivers are re-examined to insure that they are safe to continue to drive.

Current DriveABLE testing will be replaced by an Enhanced Road Assessment (ERA) that will be administered by ICBC at no cost.

The ERA has been developed by RoadSafetyBC after surveying driver re-testing in other jurisdictions and is aimed at providing greater transparency for participants.

DriveABLE has been providing both computer based and in car testing under contract with the province to identify cognitively impaired drivers. That contract expires at the end of February 2018 and will not be renewed.

Effective at the beginning of January, referrals for re-examination will be made for the ERA rather than DriveABLE.

The ERA is designed as an assessment which provides RoadSafetyBC with comprehensive information, rather than a road test that is either passed or failed. It will be conducted by ICBC Driver Examiners in the participant's own vehicle at the ICBC location nearest to their home. 

There will be no computer based testing.

Some of the most common reasons for an ERA are:

  • A doctor reports a medical condition that may affect a person’s fitness or ability to drive safely
  • Results of a previous on-road assessment suggest a follow-up is necessary
  • A collision report, police report or other report indicates a driver may be unable or unsure how to handle a common driving situation
  • The duration of the ERA will be approximately 90 minutes in total. It will consist of a pre-test check of the participant and their vehicle, two periods of driving totaling 45 minutes, a five minute break for feedback between driving sessions and a post-trip review.

Drivers will be asked to complete basic driving manoeuvres, show that they can properly adjust and use vehicle controls, follow multi-step directions and reverse a driving route.

To reverse a route, drivers will be asked to drive a few blocks from a location and then return to the starting point following that same route in reverse.

Depending on the outcome of the ERA, the driver will either return their driver's license or retain it and issue a learner's drivers's licence (LDL).

The issue of an LDL will result when a driver commits a traffic violation or takes a dangerous action during the ERA. Having an LDL now means that the driver will need a supervisor in order to drive. That supervisor must be age 25 or older and hold a valid driver's licence.

Only in rare cases will the driver's licence be cancelled at the end of an ERA.

The results of the ERA will be forwarded to RoadSafetyBC by ICBC where it will be considered along with all the other information in the driver's file. The result will be a final decision on whether to maintain, re-issue or cancel the driver's licence.

That decision will be explained to the driver, in writing, by RoadSafetyBC.

RoadSafetyBC may consider imposing restrictions on a driver's licence. The restrictions are to insure that the driver can safely operate their vehicle within their ability.

Suggestions in preparation for an ERA include honest self assessment, constructive criticism from family or a friend, reading both Learn to Drive Smart and Tuning Up for Drivers, as well as taking a refesher with a driving school.

If a driver decides not to take the ERA, they may retire from driving by exchanging their driver's licence for a British Columbia Identification Card (BCID).

Story URL: https://www.drivesmartbc.ca/driver-licencing/enhanced-road-assessment.


Building a case...

"The officer wasn't even there! How can they issue a ticket to me based only on the word of the other driver?"

A question similar to this one is posted in the DriveSmartBC Discussion Forum fairly often and its author seems to be completely surprised that something like this could happen. It's possible, but the procedure is not that simple.

First, anyone may make a complaint to the police about someone's driving and expect to have it investigated and dealt with.

The first step in the investigation was for me to speak personally with the complainant. I would listen to the circumstances to see if there was enough information to satisfy me that an offence had occurred.

At minimum, the licence plate number of the offending vehicle was needed, but any other details to identify the vehicle and driver were welcome.

If the complainant was willing to attend court as a witness, I would take as detailed a written statement from him as I could. This statement was necessary to preserve evidence and could be used by the complainant to refresh their memory of the event if the ticket was disputed and they had to testify.

I would also take statements from any other witnesses if they could be identified.

The content of the statement, but not the identity of the witness, could also be disclosed to the accused driver if an application was made in preparation for a dispute.

My next step was to determine who the registered owner of the suspect vehicle was. A check of the ICBC licence plate database furnished the name and address I required along with a description of the vehicle. I made sure that the vehicle described in the statement matched what I found here.

A personal visit to the registered owner would be made. When advised that his vehicle had been involved in a breach of the Motor Vehicle Act or Regulations, it is the responsibility of the owner (and any passenger in the vehicle at the time) to identify the driver.

This is one reason that you must exercise care when you lend your vehicle to someone.

"I don't know" or "I don't remember" leaves the investigator with no option other than to ticket the owner as he is responsible for it's use, even if he is not the driver.

Generally, at this point I now had a driver who could be interviewed. I would caution him about choosing to remain silent and then invite him to give me an explanation if he chose to.

Most often. the driver would want to explain the incident from his point of view. I would take notes of what he told me if this was the case.

Occasionally, this would be the end of the conversation as the driver exercised the right not to speak to me.

I now had to make a decision based on all the evidence that I was able to gather. If there was a clear offence and I issued a ticket, could I successfully conduct a trial that would result in a conviction?

If so, I would write the driver or registered owner a violation ticket. If not, it was time to conclude my investigation and move on.

Either way, I would advise the original complainant what had happened.

In my experience, it was not common for the suspect driver to dispute the ticket.

When he did and the ticket proceeded to a trial, I was never unsuccessful with the prosecution. I think that this had less to do with my skill as a prosecutor and more to do with the significance of the offence committed.

Story URL: https://www.drivesmartbc.ca/police/investigating-driving-complaints

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.

To comment, please email

To learn more, visit DriveSmartBC

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

Previous Stories