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Behind-the-Wheel

Your duty as a driver

Police Powers

If you are stopped by the police, what is it that the officer is entitled to do?

This is a simple enough question, and one that I'm not sure that many drivers and their passengers have stopped to consider.

Now that we have the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, does a driver have to do anything at all?

The police may stop a vehicle being operated on the highway at any time to insure that the driver is properly licensed and that the vehicle is licensed, insured and in proper mechanical repair.

In most cases, I stopped vehicles because I could see a defect or the driver had committed a driving error. The days of a "routine check" disappeared when the Charter arrived.

Signal to Stop

The driver's duty is to immediately come to a safe stop when signalled to do so. The operation of the red-and-blue lights (without the siren) on the patrol car or the hand signals of a uniformed officer are sufficient to require this action.

The driver does have some leeway in balancing "immediately" with "safe stop," but a kilometre or two is not immediate.

Production of Documents

Once stopped, the driver may be requested to produce a driver's licence, insurance particulars, vehicle licence documents and sometimes written permissions.

If required, the driver must let the officer take these documents in hand and examine them. The driver must also state their proper name and address if asked, even if they have produced the required documents.

Duty of Passengers

If the people inside a vehicle are advised by the officer that a breach of the Motor Vehicle Act has occurred in relation to it, they must identify the driver to the officer if requested to do so.

The owner of the vehicle has the same duty whether they are in the vehicle or not.

Is the Vehicle Roadworthy?

If the officer chooses to examine the vehicle for mechanical fitness, the driver must move the vehicle as directed and submit to the examination.

Depending on the situation, the officer may choose to direct the vehicle to an inspection facility for further examination. If this occurs, the owner or operator is responsible to pay any fees involved.

If the vehicle is unfit, the officer is required to remove any inspection certificate of approval attached to the vehicle.

Alcohol Impairment

During any lawful traffic stop, police may demand a random breath test from the driver. It is no longer a requirement that the officer form an opinion that the driver has alcohol in their body to require a test.

This does not yet extend to cases of impaired driving caused by drugs other than alcohol.

Oversize, Overweight and Load Security

Police may stop a vehicle to measure its size or weight and examine the load. Weighing the vehicle may take place at the roadside with portable scales or the driver can be directed to go to the nearest public weigh scale.

These are the most common issues when the general public is involved in a traffic stop. Commercial vehicle drivers will be expected to produce log books, trip inspection reports and any permits issued for their vehicles or load.

Story URL: https://www.drivesmartbc.ca/police/police-powers



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Be prepared for trouble

I remember putting chains on my father's tow truck and plowing snow with the front bumper at 30 m.p.h. to go and drag a hapless motorist back onto the highway.

I also remember my time in northern B.C. where one didn't leave the driveway without a shovel, tow rope, extra winter clothing, tools and a collection of small spare parts at this time of year.

Are you really ready for your next trip in winter conditions?

It's easy to become complacent. We expect our highways to be open at all times and perfectly maintained, even under severe winter conditions. Sometimes this is not a realistic view and the first question that you should ask yourself is, do I really need to make this trip?

If the answer is yes, the next step in planning your journey might be a visit to DriveBC. The map view shows a variety of information using icons to indicate incidents and road conditions. Web cams let you look at current conditions in hundreds of locations around BC.

Is your vehicle up to the trip? Shift Into Winter has some maintenance advice for you to consider.

Start out with a full tank of fuel or a fully charged battery. Keep them both topped up, especially if you are going to travel one of our mountain passes that have long distances between service facilities.

It does not cost you more to travel on the top half of the tank and the reserve could become very important if you are stranded.

Carry equipment to get yourself out of trouble. Transport Canada has recommendations for what to include in your basic emergency kit.

Yes, I still carry booster cables, a first aid kit, tools, spares, flares, triangles, blanket, cell phone, ham radio and a shovel with me.

Remember that a functional cell phone without an active account or SIM card can still be used to call 911 if you have signal. Keep a 12 volt charger for it in the glove box.

One bonus of being prepared is that you will also be able to provide help for others.

If you do get stuck, your first thought should be to keep the situation from becoming worse. Put out those warning devices far enough away to give other drivers time to see, think and react safely.

Your vehicle is shelter and you are likely better to stay with it until help arrives. If you run the engine to stay warm, insure that the exhaust outlets are clear to prevent fumes from entering the passenger compartment.

My final tip is that if you do travel, this is not the time to use cruise control. It's a fair weather friend that you must only use when there is good traction.

Story URL: https://www.drivesmartbc.ca/equipment/be-prepared-trouble



Lack of mufflers

There sometimes seem to be two types of people when it comes to the sounds emitted by vehicle exhaust systems:

  • Those who hate it
  • Those who try to balance calling attention to themselves yet not provoke a response from traffic law enforcement.

Why don't the police do anything about noisy exhaust systems?

Let's take a quick look at this accusation and see if it has merit. In 2019, the last year ICBC has published traffic ticket statistics for, police issued the following:

The last category, Defective Vehicle, includes all types of vehicle equipment violations, not just those related to the exhaust system. It is up to the officer to choose which section to write the violation under.

So, some enforcement is taking place. Keep in mind that no matter how irritated you might be, this noise is a nuisance rather than a safety hazard.

Given a choice between the two, the safety related violations must be a priority for enforcement.

There are exhaust system standards to follow and they are set out in paragraphs 22 and 27 of the Schedule to Division 7, MVAR.

Decibel limits are prescribed, but the standard is for testing in an inspection station and the police are working at the roadside, most often without the benefit of a measuring device.

When a decibel meter is not available to take the measurements to see if a vehicle complies, the opinion of an officer as to whether the engine and exhaust noise is:

"greater than that made by other vehicles in good condition of comparable size, horsepower, piston displacement or compression ratio shall determine whether exhaust gases are expelled with excessive noise."

It's not simply a matter of writing a ticket and carrying on with the patrol. Officers must be prepared to justify everything that they write in traffic court.

In my experience, a conviction for not having a muffler at all is difficult to obtain, and an unnecessary noise conviction based on the opinion of an officer is very unlikely.

I have never had a civilian witness available to give evidence, and perhaps that is what is missing for a conviction.

The outcome of a trial can be mixed.

At the conclusion of one, the presiding Justice of the Peace found the driver guilty and commented: "You are not a criminal, you are nothing but a social pest!"

On the other hand, I also saw a provincial court judge dismiss a ticket where the motorcycle involved was equipped with straight pipes, no muffler at all.

He acquitted the motorcyclist because he felt that it simply wasn't a matter that was important enough to be tried in his court.

Another avenue for enforcement to consider is the use of a Notice & Order #2. Designated Inspection Facilities are required to have a decibel meter and use it as part of an inspection. Inspectors will also insure that all of the necessary exhaust components are installed and functional.

There are significant penalties for ignoring the order and it will also discover and require the repair of any other safety defects that might be present.

Story URL: https://www.drivesmartbc.ca/equipment/lack-mufflers





Blinding blue headlights

One of the more frequent vehicle equipment complaints I receive is about headlight glare.

I am told that they are horrendous to an oncoming driver and it is hazardous to be driving because they are blinding. Drivers want to take their eyes off the road or look to the side to avoid them.

Are they legal?

The situation may be from one of three causes: poor design, a standard high intensity discharge (HID) headlamp or an improper retrofit.

To encourage vehicle manufacturers to improve their headlight designs, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has begun to rate vehicles for headlight performance.

According to them, headlights are still an afterthought on most vehicles in 2020, with only six of the 156 models having good-rated headlights across the board.

Tungsten filament sealed beam headlamps originated in 1940. They were improved by the introduction of the halogen sealed beam in 1962 and the replaceable halogen bulb in 1983.

This change allowed for greater high beam intensity.

The next significant improvement was the HID headlamp that used a glass capsule of glowing gas to produce light instead of a heated tungsten filament.

The system can be two to three times more efficient at producing light than the tungsten bulb. They produce more light in the blue end of the spectrum compared to the filament bulb which tends more toward the red.

It appears that it may be the blue tendency that bothers drivers (especially older drivers) looking into these lights. Research is finding that the HID lamp does produce more discomfort glare, but the reason is not clearly understood.

The current innovation in vehicle headlighting is the LED sealed beam.

Discounting the installation of lights that are either not meant for automotive use, eg: aircraft landing lights and non-standard LED lighting purchased on line, we have improper replacements widely available at local merchants.

The words "for off road use only" or "check with local authorities before use" are often buried, unnoticed, in the packaging.

Over wattage tungsten filament bulbs were the first end user modification to create excessive glare. Any tungsten filament headlight bulb rated at more than 65W is illegal to use on our highways.

LED and HID capsules made to fit standard headlamp housings are available for purchase. These are illegal for use in British Columbia because they produce even more glare than proper HID lamp systems.

In the HID systems you have a capsule, reflector and lens all designed to work together.

Capsules inserted into standard housings and reflectors do not distribute the light properly. This definitely affects oncoming drivers and could prevent proper vision for the driver of the vehicle fitted with them.

The LEDs in sealed units are not removable and the entire assembly must be replaced when they fail.

If you have a complaint about headlamps, Transport Canada is the government agency responsible.

If you want to learn more about why headlamp modifications are dangerous, visit Daniel Stern Lighting.

Story URL: https://www.drivesmartbc.ca/equipment/those-blinding-blue-headlights



More Behind the Wheel articles

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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



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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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