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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.

Behind the Wheel - Buyer Beware

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"If this is illegal, how come they are selling it at the store?" This question is common in response to corrective action taken after inspecting an illegally equipped vehicle at the roadside. In some cases the question is asked in an attempt to deflect responsibility, and in others it is asked out of genuine good faith.

About two thirds of a page was devoted to vehicle dress up items in the sale flyer of one of our local automotive businesses last week. A number of items shown are not legal to install or use on vehicles operated on B.C. highways. Nowhere in the advertising was any indication that these items were for off road use only or that the purchaser should check the law before making the purchase.

Section 222 of the Motor Vehicle Act is meant to provide some protection for the consumer. It is an offence for the business to sell or offer to sell equipment for a motor vehicle or trailer that is contrary to the law. By doing so, the business opens itself up to the possibility of charges and to civil liability should the equipment cause a problem.

Behind the Wheel - Jaywalking

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I read the Victoria Times Colonist on line each morning and today's story about jaywalking caught my attention. After reading the story all I am left with is the feeling that the situation was poorly explained and readers were left with the impression that the police should have been doing more important things. Jaywalking is something that everyone does and it isn't a bad thing to do.

The two sections in the Motor Vehicle Act that regulate pedestrians not in a crosswalk only do so when the pedestrian has either failed to yield to vehicular traffic or stepped off the curb at a time when the driver could not yield to them even if they tried to. Both of these situations are dangerous, interrupt traffic flow and potentially result in injury or death. The adults being dealt with in this story that feel put upon definitely know better and have no room to complain.

A spokesperson for the City of Victoria says that jaywalking is allowed in that area because of an exemption to the traffic bylaw used to promote a pedestrian friendly area. What they might have said is that crossing at a place other than a crosswalk is not prohibited, but pedestrians still must yield to vehicles if they do so. Municipalities are not permitted to create bylaws that are at odds to the provisions of the Motor Vehicle Act.

Behind the Wheel - The Sun Gets in Your Eyes

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This is a dangerous time of year for my morning commute. The sun is just above the horizon and in four locations I am looking directly into it while I drive. Even with my visor down and one hand up to block the reflection from the hood, it is still very difficult to see ahead of me. The rear end collision that I passed at one set of traffic lights tells me that I am not the only one having problems being blinded by the glare.

A good set of polarized sunglasses would probably be of significant help in this situation, but there are many other things that I can do to increase my margin of safety and avoid a very close examination of the back end of the vehicle I am following.

Undoubtedly, the first thing I should be doing is maintaining a safe following distance, especially since I drive this highway every weekday and can anticipate the problem. Slowing down where I know the problem is worst will do two things, increase my following distance further and in the event that I do crash will result in less damage to both me and my vehicle if I hit someone else or am struck from behind.

Behind the Wheel - Restricted Utility Vehicles

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Have you ever wanted to drive your special purpose utility vehicle on the highway but were prevented because it could not be licensed and insured? Effective February 1, 2009 Division 24 of the Motor Vehicle Act Regulations was amended to broaden the type or utility vehicle and their areas of operation. While in most cases you won't be taking your golf cart downtown for groceries, you will be able to use certain utility vehicles which sometimes require road use, incidental to their off road work.

Once properly licensed, you will be able to use a wider range of utility vehicles for incidental use in and around work sites and in designated areas, for example: private property, parking lots, campgrounds, golf courses. That is in addition to pre-existing uses of crossing a road or travelling in a ditch or on a grass boulevard with an ATV.

Bullying a New Driver

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It was not uncommon to be told that a new driver sign was not being displayed because adults took the sign as a signal to bully the new driver. I thought that was just a convenient excuse to give the policeman when you couldn't be bothered to make sure that the required sign was in place. After all, who wouldn't realize that a new driver deserved more room and a little leeway for mistakes because they were just beginning their driving career?

Fast forward to today's drive home from work. I looked left to see that I had been overtaken by a Jeep being driven by a driver displaying the N of a novice driver. That driver wasn't significantly over the speed limit but it was the behaviour of the adult piloting the four wheel drive pickup twice the size of that Jeep following behind it that upset me. There was about 2 meters of space between their bumpers at 80+ km/h. While the Jeep was centered in the fast lane, the truck was half on the left shoulder and half in the fast lane. He wanted by NOW!

It's the Highway's Fault!

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I visited a Facebook page this morning that is the electronic start of a movement to improve the highway in an area of Vancouver Island that frequently sees major collisions. Dividing the highway, adding concrete barriers, prohibiting turns, reducing the speed limit, installing traffic lights and other similar suggestions make up the majority of the solutions put forward by concerned people whenever events like these occur. Is this enough to address the problem?

I once asked a Ministry of Transportation engineer if the best way to reduce collisions was to build a cattle chute that removed the need for drivers to make decisions. While I do agree that engineering improvements to our highways can result in collision reductions I know that they are not the full answer to our problems. We must also pay attention to the other two E's, enforcement and education.

Behind the Wheel - When Drivers Kill

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I've often thought to myself over the years that if I ever wanted to kill someone the best way to do it would be to drive over them. I would wait until I found them stepping into a crosswalk and make sure that I hit them while I was turning onto the street they were crossing. I would then screech to a halt, return and scream "Oh no, I didn't see them, I'm sorry!" If I planned it just right, I might get away with a traffic ticket and have my insurer pay the bills.

Of course I'm being facetious but the thought ran through my mind again this evening when I was watching the news. A road rage driver had run someone off the road and then returned and succeeded in driving over and killing one of the vehicle occupants after they had exited their vehicle and stood on the shoulder of the road. The question posed by someone close to the deceased was why hadn't the driver been charged with homicide?

The Criminal Code of Canada says that homicide occurs when someone directly or indirectly, by any means, causes the death of a human being. Homicide is not an offence unless it is culpable, meaning that the death is caused by an unlawful act, criminal negligence, causing someone to kill themselves by threats, fear of violence or deception or wilfully frightening them, in the case of a child or sick person.

Behind the Wheel - Parked Vehicles and Snow Removal

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There's nothing like a bit of extreme weather to create problems for drivers. Usually it comes in the form of a collision but lately it stems from too much snow and the inability to park properly or to move a vehicle that was parked legally before the snow fell. Some leeway may be given but there is a point where it's time to get it moving or to try harder to park closer to the curb.

If you have a driveway the best thing to do is to anticipate the snowfall and stay off of the roads. This will give snow removal equipment all the room that they need to clean as much of the street as they are able to in the circumstances. You will only have to clean the driveway to have access to the street and you can move the snow to the side. It is generally illegal to shovel snow onto a sidewalk or the street itself.

Are you forced to park in the street? Eventually you will have to move your vehicle to allow the street to be cleaned and many municipalities limit the amount of time you can park in one place as well. If you don't do this, police and road maintenance personnel may have your vehicle towed. You will be responsible to pay the towing bill in order to get your vehicle back.

Be Prepared for Trouble!

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It's easy to become complacent. I remember putting chains on my father's tow truck and plowing snow with the front bumper at 30 mph to go and drag a hapless motorist back onto the highway. I also remember my time in northern BC 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. So, how am I doing today here on Vancouver Island?

Two weeks ago my normal 20 minute commute turned into a 2 hour journey that ended 25 meters short of my driveway in about 25 cm of snow. Would I have made it all the way if I had winter tires on my truck instead of all season tires with a blocky tread? Maybe, but I'll bet that if I had a set of chains the trip would have been one hour or less instead of 2 and I would not have had to rely on the push of two neighbours.

Mental note to self, research and buy a good set of chains after the stores recover from the panic buying of last week.

Yes, I still carry booster cables, a first aid kit, tools, spares, flares, triangles, blanket, cell phone, ham radio and I had a shovel with me, but I didn't have a tow rope nor those chains that I might only use once a year if I'm unlucky. I also stopped carrying candles when I left the north. Sadly, this left me unable to look after myself that day.

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