Professional Courtesy

"Professional Courtesy" is common to the medical profession where que jumping is effected for medical appointments, etc., for medical professionals. Please comment on an equivalent courtesy which may be offered by law enforcement agencies for non criminal offences such as speeding or minor traffic infractions of firemen, armed forces personnel and others. Would you recommend that the many who feel entitled to speed should get one of those "Fireman" license frames?

It happens. To say anything else would be to deny reality. Does it happen as often and for as many things as the public may think? Probably not. Can it be stopped? No. Should it be stopped? No again. Why not? One might think that traffic law enforcement is black and white. You break the rule, you receive a ticket. If that were the case, we would all deserve a ticket within a very short while.

Thankfully, our legal system allows an officer to exercise discretion to charge or not to charge and to participate in diversion or an alternative resolution system to deal with offenders. If the public expected every traffic violation by an officer to be dealt with by ticket, then they could only expect to have the same treatment applied to them. I think that most people would find this solution unpalatable and are, for the most part, happy with the system the way it is now. However, as with anything else, it is a matter of degree.

While I had no problem shaking my finger at a fellow officer for a few km/h above the posted limit and sending them on their way I would never have considered ignoring an impaired driver or being less than impartial in the investigation of a collision. Yes, I have issued a ticket to someone I knew was a police officer, fireman, paramedic, doctor, judge or politician.

I have also failed to ticket those who couldn't afford it, didn't understand or chose to take driver training in exchange. The yardstick I used was whether I could live with the decision I made if it were held up to public scrutiny and I honestly believe that the dedicated people I worked with during my career behaved in the same manner.

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Submitted by E-mail

I disagree. People are not happy now : they are not happy being tailgated, being passed in school zones (especially by drivers displaying the green Z), they are not happy with the general carnage on the highways, resulting from bad drivers who KNOW the odds of being ticketed for most of their infractions is minimal. That attitude increases complacency, and an escalation of their disdain for "The Rules" If every infraction was dealt with, to the letter of the law, people would soon be tired of the points, fines, inconvenience of being stopped, etc. They would KNOW that infractions would cost them, and they would modify their driving behaviour approproriately. ( At least in an a Perfect and Rational world !) The "discretion" that police have given themselves can lead to abuse, bribes, etc. The abuse will lead to disrespect for the law, and eventual anarchy. Damned if you do, Damned if you don't.

Submitted by E-mail

I personally believe you have used the best yardstick. The only aspect that would also be useful, as I see it, would be to know whether the person or persons to whom you presented the discretionary decision "not to ticket" actually became better drivers. I suspect if that person would be somewhat humbled by your "gift" ( maybe the wrong choice of word!) it would be so and that 's the end result to hope for. As always, you make me think. Thank you.

law enforcement discretion

One commenter expressed a view that strict law enforcement is the solution, and that there should be no discretion on the part of peace officers. I think there are problems with this point of view, and that the status quo, while imperfect, is still best.

Driving is not an exact science. There are so many variables involved. Safe driving is far more than following the letter of the law. I'm sure most of us have experienced inept drivers that would never get a ticket - until they cause an accident - and others who constantly push the envelope but have clean, claim-free driving records. Also, laws are often established in arbitrary ways, or in response to political pressure, e.g. consider the unwarranted proliferation of four-way stops as a "traffic calming" measure in many Canadian communities.

Absolutely rigid speed enforcement, to use one example, would generate lots of revenue, but lots of hard feelings as well. Police officers would become highly visible uniformed tax collectors, universally loathed. That kind of public image is hardly helpful when police need the cooperation and goodwill of citizens to do their jobs, that is, being delegated by us through our elected representatives to enforce all laws on our behalf.

It is very much part of the give and take required to live in a civil society. Rule bound rigidity is not going to create positive behaviours nearly as much as reasoned persuasion and conformity to social norms. The best that law enforcement can reasonably do is target those who clearly step out of line. With the rest, it's behaviour modification, warnings, encouragement, etc.

Another thought - if someone takes a ticket to court, there is no behaviour modification happening because they clearly haven't accepted the validity of the ticket. In many cases, the public interest may be better served through a warning or a discounted ticket that the offending motorist accepts, rather than a large fine that results in a legal fight.

A last comment. If traffic laws are widely ignored, then the traffic laws may well be the problem. If they are not accepted, a democratic system would logically change them. ("Safety" is not an imperative in a democracy, but freedom is. Safety is also a relative concept, not an absolute.) The old 85th percentile principle for setting speed limits is an excellent example of democracy in action. It assumes that at least 85% of motorists will behave reasonably and drive at speeds they consider safe, allowing police to focus their attention on the up to 15% whose judgement may be less than sufficient.

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