Traffic rules are not just flaunted in other countries

Traffic safety perspectives

I am blessed with readers who send me e-mail to suggest traffic safety topics to write about, share a story or even a bit of humour.

It's the humour that triggered this column, specifically a photo of people from a Third World country packed into a vehicle in a manner that would be totally unacceptable today in British Columbia.

I don't have to dig too far in my own memory to recall when we used to load the back of my father's pickup with the neighbourhood kids and set off on an adventure.

Of course, I would never think of doing that today, mainly because of the collision scenes I have investigated in my traffic enforcement career. It's just too easy to contemplate what might happen.

Do we feel a sense of superiority when we compare ourselves to the people in the picture?

There is no doubt in my mind more than some of us feel exactly this way. There should be a law to protect these crazy people from themselves. Clearly they can't make the right decision on their own.

Whoa! Time to look in the mirror fellow British Columbians.

We have quite a collection of traffic laws, don't we? Ten kilometres per hour over the limit is not a problem, following closely enough to read the fine print on the license plate validation decal gets us there a few seconds sooner and rolling through a stop sign or hesitating slightly before turning right at a red light are only a few of the common ways we flout them.

Who should laugh at whom?

It would be nice if I could look back at today from 20 years in the future and find a culture where drivers are safety oriented and taking liberties with all the driving conventions was frowned on.

Will it happen? That all depends on how you and I choose to behave and the way we pass that thought on to our children.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Stop signs are not for speed control

Effectiveness of stop signs

The neighbourhoods where we live are important to us.

When we see problems like vehicles speeding past our homes or a volume of traffic that disturbs the peace and quiet, we want to act to solve our problem. One of the first things we demand is for the authorities to put up stop signs.

The stop sign is an effective traffic control device when it is used in the right place and in the proper situation. The sign's job is to help road users to decide who has the right of way at an intersection.

Putting up a stop sign to arbitrarily interrupt through traffic on a street is a common misuse.

Instead, provincial guidelines should decide when a stop sign is necessary. The guidelines take into consideration variables such as the probability of vehicles arriving at an intersection at the same time, the length of time traffic must wait to enter, traffic delays, and the availability of safe crossing opportunities.

Vehicle speeds are only slowed at the sign and drivers tend to accelerate from them, often reaching speeds higher than before the stop sign was installed. This attempt to make up for lost time is one reason that stop signs are not effective as a speed control.

Drivers will find the path of least resistance. If they can find a route with fewer traffic controls, they will take it. In many cases, this simply pushes the traffic elsewhere in the neighbourhood. Your problem is solved but it now causes problems for others nearby.

Like speed limit signs, drivers will ignore a stop sign that they think is not necessary. If they rarely see other traffic present it's easy to decide that there is no need to stop. This could lead to an increase in collisions.

Stops and starts at intersections will increase the noise and exhaust pollution levels around them, so there will be nintended consequences. Are you ready to trade one problem for another?

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

What to do if your traffic complaint appears to be ignored

Making a traffic complaint

Question: My driving complaint was ignored.

If a person is not satisfied with the response from the local police to a driving complaint, what is the next step?

I know for a fact my wife and I had the offending vehicle, driver's description and B.C. license number correct.

After reporting the incident, I received a call from an RCMP constable telling me the plate number I gave them was registered to a Hyundai and not the Pontiac I reported. They told me there was nothing they could do.

Answer: I understand this person's frustration and can respond to this question from both sides of the fence, as I have been both an investigator and a dissatisfied complainant with regard to a driving complaint.

As an investigator, I can say that having the license plate number reported identify a different vehicle than the type complained about happens fairly regularly. Most often it is a mistake in reading the plate, which can be very difficult now that some B.C. license plates are designed for decoration rather than legibility.

Occasionally it is a stolen plate or one that was recently transferred.

In all of those cases, a telephone call or a visit to the registered owner can clear up any discrepancy.

The information gained from the follow-up investigation can either confirm it is the wrong plate number or the right plate and the wrong vehicle description.

With the former, there is nothing further to be done and with the latter appropriate action may be taken.

As a complainant, I reported a vehicle that passed me and a small group of vehicles following me over a double solid line with oncoming traffic in the opposite lane. The investigator told me that because I only had the plate number and could not identify the driver, there was nothing that could be done.

I knew better and explained why. That put a different face on the investigation and it proceeded to a charge against the offending driver.

Unfortunately, it was mishandled yet again, but that's a story for another article.

I hope the scenario I describe, where I was the dissatisfied complainant, is the exception rather than the rule today.

In my case, I was able to satisfy my curiosity by giving the file number to the detachment operations officer and asking that he tell me what happened with my complaint.

If I wasn't satisfied, I was prepared to request a copy of my complaint file through a Freedom of Information request and take it up with the appropriate public complaint office.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Increasing your vehicle's speed while being passed

Passing safety on the road

Passing zones alway present interesting situations for traffic enforcement.

There were many times when I would find one driver in the right lane travelling at, or near, the speed limit and another overtaking on the left at a speed significantly in excess of the limit.

On stopping the speeder, I would often hear about how they had been forced to travel behind the slower vehicle, which was going well under the limit, for great distances and how the slow driver sped up when they reached the passing lane.

"Isn't there a law about increasing your speed while being passed?" I was often asked.

Yes, there is, but it does not automatically take effect when you find an opportunity to pass.

According to the The Motor Vehicle Act:

Section 157 (2) Except when overtaking and passing on the right is permitted, a driver of an overtaken vehicle,

(a) on hearing an audible signal given by the driver of the overtaking vehicle, must cause the vehicle to give way to the right in favour of the overtaking vehicle, and

(b) must not increase the speed of the vehicle until completely passed by the overtaking vehicle.

When there is only one lane for your direction of travel and a safe opportunity to pass appears, honk your horn at the slower driver ahead of you. Having heard the sound of your horn, they are required to wait until after you pass to speed up.

Multiple lanes permit passing on the right because there are at least two adjacent lanes for the same direction of travel. So, the previously slow driver is allowed to speed up to the limit in this type of passing zone.

Experience taught me if I applied my speed "allowance" for drivers over the limit to those under the limit and watched the advisory speed signs, speeders were a dime a dozen and truly slow drivers were difficult to find.

If you exceed the limit in order to pass, you take your chances with law enforcement.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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