Investigating driving complaints made by a member of the public

Public driving complaints

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

Police may issue a traffic ticket based on driving complaints from the public, but only after doing a proper investigation of the incident.

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

The first step in the investigation is for an officer to meet and speak personally with the complainant.

He or she would listen to the circumstances to see if there was enough information to satisfy the officer an offence had, in fact, occurred.

At minimum, the licence plate number of the offending vehicle is needed to begin the investigation of a driving complaint, but any other details that identify the vehicle and driver are welcome.

If the complainant is willing to attend court as a witness, the officer will take as detailed a written statement as they could. The statement is necessary to preserve evidence and could be used by the complainant to refresh their memory of the event if the ticket is disputed and they had to testify.

Statements are also taken from any other witnesses who were present if they can be identified.

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

The next step is to determine who the registered owner of the suspect vehicle is.

A check of the ICBC licence plate database can furnish the name and address required, along with a description of the vehicle. The officer will make sure the vehicle described in the statement matches what he or she found in the database.

The owner (of the vehicle) must identify the driver. A personal visit to the registered owner will be made. When advised that their vehicle was involved in a breach of the Motor Vehicle Act or its 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 you must exercise care when you lend your vehicle to someone else.

"I don't know" or "I don't remember" leaves the investigator with no option other than to ticket the owner as they are responsible for the vehicle’s use, even if they were not the driver.

Generally, at this point, the investigator, now has a driver who can be interviewed. They will be cautioned about choosing to remain silent and invited them to give me an explanation if they chose to.

Most often, drivers would want to explain the incident from their point of view.The officer will take notes of what they are told if that is the case.

Occasionally, that will be the end of the conversation, if the driver exercises the right not to speak to the officer.

The officer then has to make a decision based on all the evidence gathered—if there was a clear offence and an a ticket is issued, can a trial be successfully conducted that would result in a conviction?

If so, the officer will write the driver or the registered owner a violation ticket. If not, it ’s time to conclude the investigation and move on.

Either way, the officer will advise the original complainant what happened.

In my experience, drivers did not dispute tickets resulting from driving complaints often.

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

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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.

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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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