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Motor vehicle law column by Tim Schewe

Behind the Wheel - Stay Out of the Cone Zone

We are very fortunate here in British Columbia when it comes to workplace safety. In general, if our workplace is not safe, we feel entitled to apply pressure to our employers to make it so. If another person's workplace is not safe we wonder why someone is not doing something about it. Occupational health and safety programs are the norm rather than the exception.

If you ever have the chance to talk to a school crossing guard, flag person, highway maintenance worker or anyone else whose job requires them to work on our highways, ask them how safe they feel when they are on the job. If they don't have a story of their own about negative or dangerous driving behaviour they have definitely watched someone else at their work site bear the brunt of a poor driving decision.

A quick scan of ICBC collision numbers indicate that about 30 people are injured and one person is killed while working on our highways each year. One has to ask why this is so when every effort is made to post signs, erect cones and barricades, employ flag persons, use pilot vehicles, double the fines in construction zones and create advertising campaigns like Stay Out of the Cone Zone and Slow Down, My Mother Works Here.

Behind the Wheel - Detecting Marihuana Impairment

I recently overheard a conversation between young people where they discussed the daily use of marihuana - on their way to and from school and in their cars. They said it did not affect their ability to drive and that it went undetected by parents, teachers, employers and the police. Could you please discuss what methods are available, if they are being utilized to identify drivers under the influence of marihuana and how effective it is.

I did not receive Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) training during my traffic enforcement service, but I was able to work alongside others who had been trained and learned enough to be confident of my decisions when I issued 24 hour prohibitions for the use of marihuana.

A driver under the influence of marihuana is more difficult to detect than most other illegal drugs, but it does produce the following symptoms: blood shot eyes, accelerated heart rate (tachycardia), muscle tremors and forgetfulness. Marihuana impairments include: difficulties with judgement, depth perception and the ability to maintain attention. All of these skills are necessary for the safe operation of a motor vehicle.

Behind the Wheel - Show Me the Radar Reading

Research articles : 

"I want to see the radar reading!" This was always a signal to me that the traffic stop was going to be a difficult one. The demand for a print out of the radar reading was a similar request. Depending on the tone of voice, it was often simpler to refuse outright and explain later on in traffic court, letting the justice be the referee.

In British Columbia, the police are not required to show radar or laser readings to the alleged offender. Further, I have never used a radar or laser that created any sort of printout to hand to the person receiving the ticket.

Failing to do either one will not make any difference to the case in traffic court.

When the request was a polite one, I would show the readout of the device and explain it. Often I would also detail how the unit was tested for accuracy and then do the tests on the spot. In the case of a tripod mounted laser I would occasionally allow the driver an opportunity to use it themselves. This probably reduced the chance of a dispute because the person understood how their vehicle's speed had been measured.

Behind the Wheel - Railway Crossing Etiquette

Research articles : 

Using proper caution at railway crossings is something that all drivers must remember, because the train will not stop for you. It is easy to forget if you use a crossing regularly but don't often meet a train. The following information may help you avoid "running into" a train.

Where do you stop? Your vehicle must be stopped within 15 metres, and no less than 5 metres from the nearest rail.

When do you stop? You must stop if an electrical or mechanical signal, or a flagman is giving warning. You must also stop if a crossing gate is being lowered, or if a train is within 500 metres, or is travelling at such a speed that it is an immediate hazard. Of course, you must obey a stop sign posted at the crossing.

It is an offence to pass a barrier at a railway crossing when it is closed, or if it is being closed or opened. It is also an offence to approach a railway crossing without using caution.

Drivers of vehicles carrying poisons, explosives or flammables, and drivers of buses or school buses carrying passengers must stop at all uncontrolled railway crossings, even if a train is not approaching. The driver must look both ways and listen for an approaching train. If it is safe to proceed, the driver must cross the tracks without shifting gears, and must not stop over the tracks.

Behind the Wheel - Taking the Wrong Cue

Research articles : 

We take many of our driving cues from what is happening around us when we are in traffic. If we are paying attention and watching for the correct cues all goes well. Stop paying full attention to the driving task, accidentally take the wrong cues and you can easily cause a collision.

The case in point occurred yesterday afternoon. A car was waiting, first in line at a red light in the left hand through lane. I pulled up to stop beside it in the right hand through lane at the same time as the left turn signal we were facing changed to green. Signals for through traffic remained red as there were vehicles using the oncoming left turn lane.

The driver of the car probably saw the green light and my movement in the intended direction of travel in their peripheral vision and decided it was time to go. Something must not have seemed quite right because the driver did not accelerate as quickly as vehicles facing a new green light usually do.

Fortunately the oncoming driver was watching the right cues. He slowed enough that the driver that had been beside me did not collide with him, although it was a near miss.

Behind the Wheel - Advisory Signs

Research articles : 

The large diamond shaped sign shows a black arrow on a yellow background telling drivers of a curve ahead. Underneath it is a smaller square sign with black lettering on a yellow background showing a speed of 30 km/h. This sign and others similar to it are classed as advisory signs by the Motor Vehicle Act Regulations.

The signs are advance notice of conditions on or adjacent to a highway that are potentially hazardous to traffic. A driver may choose whether or not to follow the suggestion given by the sign. Ignoring the advice is not an offence in itself, but anything that happens because the signs are not given consideration may be an offence.

Advisory signs generally have black figures on a yellow background.

The example of the curve was chosen to illustrate a point. We have often seen these signs and then travelled around the curve comfortably at speeds higher than that suggested. In those cases the shape of the curve and the road condition could accommodate the vehicle travelling at the higher speed.

Behind the Wheel - How to Identify the Driver

Research articles : 

Last week I explained to you that the police only require the license plate number of the offending vehicle in order to investigate your driving complaint. Of course, any information that you can provide in addition to this is a bonus and makes your complaint that much more credible. However, it is not necessary to be able to pick the driver out of a lineup or be able to tell the officer who they are.

The Motor Vehicle Act gives the police tools to investigate and gather information on the identity of the driver at the relevant time. Your complaint provides reason to believe that the vehicle involved was in breach of certain transportation related acts, regulations or bylaws. Registered owner information from I.C.B.C. records then gives the officer a person to inquire with.

When this is explained to the registered owner and the identity of the driver at the relevant time and place is demanded, the owner must do all in their power to identify the driver to the investigator. This holds true even when the driver is the registered owner. Failure to do this or giving false information about this is an offence.

Behind the Wheel - The Complainant is Dissatisfied

Research articles : 

If a person is not satisfied with the response of 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 this incident I received a call from a constable telling me that the plate number I gave them was registered to a Hyundai and not the Pontiac I reported. They told me there was nothing else they could do.

I can respond to this reader's 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 has recently been transferred. In all of these cases, a telephone call or a visit to the registered owner can clear up any discrepancy.

Behind the Wheel - Seller Beware!

Research articles : 

Would you write about selling a vehicle? I have friends who sold a car and months later they received information that the car was in an impound lot. The purchaser had failed to register the car in his name and since the car was still registered to them they were legally liable. How does one insure that the new owner re-registers the vehicle?

This is an area of civil law that I am not familiar with, so I asked for legal advice. This is what was related to me:

"In my opinion the registered owner would bear responsibility to the towing/storage company. The seller would then have to chase after the buyer for indemnification. This may seem harsh, but the reason that we have a system of registration is to ensure that liabilities and responsibilities are clearly designated. It is the vendor's responsibility to ensure that registration is changed as much as it is the buyer's.

If I was giving advice to the seller I'd be telling them not to pay the account and have the matter addressed in court, so that the purchaser could be brought in by 3rd party proceedings to place responsibility where it ought lie."

Behind the Wheel - Traffic Safety Perspectives

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I am blessed with readers who send me e-mail to suggest topics, 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. I can remember standing up in the box of the truck holding onto the headache rack behind the cab and trying to see ahead into that 80 km/h wind. Of course, I would never think of doing that today, mainly because of the collision scenes that 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 this e-mail picture? There is no doubt in my mind that 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.


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