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Motor vehicle law column by Tim Schewe

Allowing an Unlicensed Minor to Drive

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I have a question. A friend of mine let his 13 year old daughter drive his car on the streets of our town! What are the implications if they got caught and/or if she got in an accident?

As one might expect, this is an offence against the Motor Vehicle Act. The Act simply says that anyone having possession or control of a motor vehicle and permits an unlicensed minor to drive it commits an offence.

What one might not stop to consider is that if this child caused a collision it could result in financial ruin for the parent. The Insurance (Vehicle) Act allows a claim to be denied if the insured violates a term or condition of the plan. One of the terms of your Autoplan insurance is that the driver must be properly licensed.

At the least the parent who owns the vehicle would have to pay to repair damage to the vehicle. At worst the parent would have to pay the entire bill for damage and injury caused to other property, vehicles and people involved in the collision. When we consider that it is routine to buy a million dollars of third party liability coverage today it is easy to imagine that the financial loss would be devastating.

In view of these facts it can be seen that this is a very poor decision on the part of the parent.

Motorcycles and HOV Lanes

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I ride a motorcycle and find that some HOV lanes allow motorcycles and some do not. It is frustrating to pass the non-HOV entrance to a roadway only to find that the HOV lane entrance does not permit motorcycles. Can it be changed so that motorcycles are permitted to use all HOV lanes and entrances, in particular that one as I commute over that bridge daily?

After trading a few e-mails with this gentleman, I learned that he had been stopped by police and warned that he could not operate his motorcycle in the lane that he had chosen because motorcycles were not permitted by the signs posted for it. That confused me because motorcycles are exempted from the requirement to be a high occupancy vehicle in order to use high occupancy vehicle lanes in British Columbia.

I contacted the police department involved and asked about motorcycles and HOV lanes. They confirmed that what I understood was correct but the largest problem they faced with enforcement was that many drivers did not understand the signs. Often they were operating in bus only lanes mistakenly thinking that they were HOV lanes.

Opening the Door

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Imagine the surprise of the motorist at a collision I once investigated. He parked at the side of the road, opened his door, and a passing car tried to tear it off! It's a good thing he didn't step out while he opened the door.

What went wrong here? The motorist didn't look first, or didn't see what was overtaking him. He probably felt safe in the fact that he had stopped close to the curb and was out of harm's way.

The Brake Check

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The sign says "Trucks, Stop Here, Check Brakes, Steep Hill Ahead." Ask almost anyone and they would likely tell you that this sign only applies to heavy commercial trucks equipped with air brakes. This is not the case however, the sign applies to all trucks with a licensed Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) of more than 5,500 kg. regardless of brake system type. It could include everything from a truck tractor to a pickup pulling an RV.

Advisory signs posted at the brake check site tell drivers of vehicles equipped with hydraulic brake systems that they must check pedal pressure, brake assist, that there are no fluid leaks and that the brake drums are not overheated. Pedal pressure is tested by applying the brakes and holding them applied. The pedal must not be spongy or slowly depress. Turn the engine off, pump the brake pedal to deplete the assist, hold the pedal down and start the engine again. If assist is working properly you will feel the pedal rise slightly.

Are you towing a trailer equipped with brakes? Disconnect the vacuum lines, pull the pin on the electric switch or the lever on the surge brake to activate the breakaway brake. Try to drive ahead and the trailer wheels should lock.

The Parking Brake

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Thinking back over my years of doing mechanical inspections at the roadside, one of the most common deficiencies in older vehicles was a parking brake that was either seriously out of adjustment or didn't function at all. Also known as an emergency brake, this mechanical alternative to your hydraulic braking system really has two jobs: providing emergency braking in the event of brake failure and holding your vehicle stationary when it is parked. Will your parking brake be up to the job?

The hydraulic braking system of modern vehicles is highly reliable with proper maintenance. It is actually two separate braking circuits that provide redundant braking if one half of the system were to fail. The parking brake is much less capable, even when it is in proper working order. Let it fall into disrepair and you cannot expect it to be much help when you finally do call on it in a dire emergency.

Many drivers don't realize that the parking brake acts on the rear wheels only and this can result in exciting consequences. The end of your vehicle with the locked wheels is the end that wants to be first. Apply the parking brake immediately with full force and you could find yourself zooming along facing backwards! Always apply the parking brake carefully in an emergency stopping condition.

Demonstration License Plates

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Chances are, if you've ever gone to a car dealership and test driven a vehicle, you were driving a vehicle equipped with demonstration license plates. The license plates are commonly known as dealer plates and may be attached to any vehicle owned by or under sale consignment to the dealer intended for use by a customer. When used this way, the vehicle is considered to be properly licensed and insured as required by the Motor Vehicle Act.

The sales people at the dealership will likely be very careful to insure that you have a valid driver's license before they allow you to test drive a vehicle equipped with demonstration plates. This is a wise precaution as the vehicle is subject to seizure if the driver is a vehicle impound candidate. Chances are good that they will photocopy your drivers license to retain as proof and you may wish to request the photocopy be returned to you when you bring their vehicle back in good condition.

As the driver of a demonstration vehicle, you will also be interested in the paperwork that you are required to have while you are testing the vehicle. This is written permission, valid for a period of not more than 48 hours, must contain the date and time of issue and the signature of the demonstration license holder. If requested by the police, you must produce it.

Vehicles Owned by Dead People

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In the time that I have been writing this column I have accumulated many different topics. The requests have been varied, but I must admit, I never would have come up with this week's topic myself. A reader has asked about vehicles owned by dead people.

The question is not as far out as you might think, and has some very important legal considerations. The lawyer I spoke with to gather background information suggested that on the death of a sole registered owner, the plates be cancelled, a storage insurance policy be purchased, and the vehicle be parked until the estate is probated. If the vehicle is worth less than $10,000 and the spouse is registered as co-owner ICBC will allow the surviving spouse to change the registration to indicate that they are sole owner in order to continue to use the vehicle prior to probate.

If others continue to use the vehicle after the registered owner's death, be sure all insurance companies with an interest in the vehicle are notified of the situation. Failure to do so could result in a denial of insurance coverage if the vehicle were damaged or stolen.

Breakdown Warning Devices

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When I am not responding to column suggestions I take my inspiration from watching what is going on around me when I drive. The other day I almost turned around to warn a mother and child sitting on the concrete barrier in front of a broken down van towing a tent trailer. Even if the trailer was not stopped partly into the traveled lane I know from investigating collisions that they were at greater risk than they realized.

A kit consisting of at least two reflective orange triangles could have improved these people's safety considerably. Placed at least 4 seconds travel time to the rear, at the rear and halfway in between, three triangles would have given approaching traffic a clue that something hazardous was ahead, especially at night. It's a small investment that could even save a life.

Motorhomes and commercial vehicles that carry more than 10 passengers or are over 2.3 meters in width registered in British Columbia are required to carry approved warning devices. These must consist of devices meant for use during darkness and two red flags of at least 30 by 30 centimeters in size or two warning devices meant for daytime use. Proper warning triangles meet both requirements.

Open Liquor in a Motor Vehicle

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On a sunny afternoon patrol one weekend I stopped a vehicle that had been exceeding the speed limit. As I approached, I could see two gray haired women in the front and two men of the same vintage in the rear of the car. I could also see a partially consumed cold beer in the hand of each of the men, who made no attempt to hide them from me.

I explained that the liquor was being possessed and consumed illegally and that I would be searching the car under the provisions of the Liquor Control and Licensing Act. I had to convince the two to hand over the two open bottles of beer and searched for and seized the balance under very strong verbal protest.

The registered owner of the vehicle, a local resident, was one of the males and he exclaimed that he could see nothing wrong with enjoying a drink with his visiting guest as his wife drove the car. She had not been drinking, but she received the ticket for illegal transport of the liquor.

Perhaps I have seen too many collisions caused by impaired drivers, but I do believe that there are more appropriate places to enjoy an alcoholic drink than doing so in the passenger compartment of your vehicle while it is being driven on the highway. In my view it is a very short step between passengers drinking and the driver joining in too.

Double Solid Yellow Lines

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Could you talk about the rule about not crossing a double line when driving? A friend and I were talking about this and she thought there had been an update on this rule, that you were allowed to cross a double line under certain circumstances, though she could not remember what the circumstances were.

The rules regarding double solid yellow lines on British Columbia highways have not changed. They require that a driver remain to the right of them at all times. Technically, this means that as soon as your left side tires stray onto the lines themselves, you have broken those rules. You are not even allowed to cross them in order to avoid an obstruction on the highway as you may with single lines or a combination of single and broken lines.

I have seen many ticket disputes for crossing a double solid line ranging from "I wasn't passing anyone" to "my car wasn't completely over the line." One gentleman even tried to explain that he was avoiding an article on the road by going around it to the left. Had he slowed down and gone around it on the right where there was room to pass by safely, he would have avoided joining all these people who were convicted by the traffic court justice.


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