I Break the Rules, But I do it Safely

AngelOne of the most common responses that I received having stopped a driver for a traffic violation was a rationalization or justification for the behaviour I observed. The driver clearly knew that what they were doing was against the traffic laws but in their minds they were still being safe. Exceeding the speed limit, slowing down for stop signs, or even driving on the wrong side of the road could be excused because "No one else was around." If that was the case, where did I and my fully marked police vehicle materialize from?

Brake is a road safety charity in the UK. They partnered with an insurance company and surveyed 1,000 drivers about their own driving and their perception of other drivers. Among their findings are 63% of young drivers feel that it is more dangerous than safe to drive, 46% of men break the rules, but only when they can do it safely and that 99% think that they are at least as safe as the average driver.

I suspect that if this survey was conducted here in British Columbia the results would be much the same. Most of us think that we are better than the average driver, something that cannot be true. This perception of our own capabilities can lead to poor decision making which in the context of driving may mean injury and death. That costs us all when we pay our taxes and renew the insurance for our vehicles.

Will the BC government take this inflated perception of capability into consideration when they review the public input of the speed limit survey planned for next month? I hope so because my experience has shown me that some drivers have neither the knowledge nor the forethought to contribute in a truly useful way. Driver education should be a driving career long effort, not one that ends when we first receive our full licence.

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In answer to your question of where you and your police vehicle materialized, the answer is 'in my trunk'. Yes, it has been fully established that police and their cruisers hide in our trunks just waiting for us to make a mistake and break the rules. Or so it seems!

I wonder what the results of a experiment like this would be: at a 4 way stop, over the course of a day, how many drivers come to a 100% stop before proceeding through the intersection when there are no other cars present. I'd be surprised if you got more than a small handful that do. The rest will slow to varying degrees (to your point, to what they think is 'safe'). If one person slowed just a little and kept going most would agree that was unsafe but what if they slowed almost to a stop, but didn't quite feel that backwards lurch we feel when we come to a complete stop. Would that be safe. I believe most would say so but where is the line of propriety... the line between safe driving and practicality. The answer is 'it doesn't matter'. There is no line for the police, they'll happily give you a ticket regardless. 

The only acceptable response to a question "Do you know why I pulled you over over" is
"No officer. Why did you pull me over?"

The fact that "the most common responses ... was a rationalization or justification for the behaviour I observed."
Is a damning testament that the leadership has purposefully failed to educate the people about their duties, obligations, liabilities and the law system they are subjected to.

You raise several interesting points.

Your only truly valid one is made last:  "Driver education should be a driving career long effort, not one that ends when we first receive our full licence."

If that were actually true, most of the behaviours discussed in your articles would occur so rarely as to not be a problem.  This is the fault of ICBC, who let incompetent drivers get licences, and fail to insist on re-training them once that incompetence is demonstrated by either an accient (or several) or several tickets.

What is safe and what is not has absolutely nothing to do with the law.  Safety depends on the driver's skill, road conditions and other physical circumstances.  The Law on the other hand, was written arbitrarily.  The lawmakers may have determined the arbitrary limit based on some physical considerations, but it rarely is obvious that they have done so.

Once a legal definition, or a legal limit is in place, the police enforce it without regard for the circumstances -- or at lest they should.  If they don't, they become judges.

It is important to obey traffic signals -- including stop signs -- even when there is no traffic around.  It is important so that the action becomes so totally automatic that it happens automatically.  As soon as you decide to slow - and - go because "there is nobody areound" then you have turned every stop sign and traffic light into a decision point.  Doing it automatically every time keeps the habit a habit.  Obeying traffic signals has nothing to do with the law -- it just makes sense to do so, regardless of whether or not it is "safe" to disobey it.

In aviation there is the "Pilot in Command" concept.  Under certain circumstances, a pilot my disobey an rule if the safety of his passengers, himself, or others would be increased.  I do not knw whether or not a judge in Provincial court has the same leeway, but I would hope so.

I don’t think you would need to select a UK charity working in combination with an Insurance Company to discover that, generally speaking, the vast majority – perhaps 90% - of drivers consider themselves to be of ‘above average’ ability.  And certainly this is prevalent amongst the younger drivers, though by no means restricted to one age group.

That said, it would seem only logical for the BC Government, when reviewing the public input of the pending speed limit survey, to take into consideration the age and experience of those responding to their poll; and not just because of their lack of driving experience, so much as their importance as tax paying citizens.  You know, the ones who pay for highway upgrades, pay for policing, pay for fuel taxes, pay for ICBC insurance, and ultimately pay for the cost of collisions.  They are the ones who pay for the roads, and who need to use them most often, and depend on them for efficient transportation.  They are you and me, rather than opinionated (but perhaps ignorant) youths.

So I wouldn’t worry too much about undue influence from incompetent drivers, particularly given the driving record of our current and previous Liberal Premiers. 

Because any changes made in regard to speed limits will surely be made in response to adult voters; whether they be those (like me) who feel that the 110 km/h limit on Hwy 5 and Hwy 19 are absurd – and the penalties for travelling at 150 km/h on those roads even when there is no other traffic present are stupendously harsh and indefensible in a democratic society – or those of advanced years, who know they shouldn’t really be driving any more anyway, (many don’t drive at night or on freeways, and haven’t for a long time, because they’re incapable of it).  We live in a democracy.

Typically, limits are set – or should be - as being the maximum reasonable speed under ideal conditions. But traffic laws and controls are changed or adjusted all the time, by engineers who surely have some expertise in this area.  If somebody had suggested forty years ago that certain residential intersections required two or four stop-signs, people using them would have considered this ridiculous.  And yet, it happened; stop-signs went up all over the place (to be fair, often after a nasty T-bone collision at an uncontrolled intersection that had previously been unblemished).  Yet still, collisions occurred, due to poor sight lines and assumption of right-of-way by drivers who weren't facing them.  

But about ten years ago, those same traffic engineers realized that actually, those stop-sign intersections could still be improved (their goal always being both to reduce collisions whilst also maintaining traffic flow - please keep this dual concept in mind).  What do you know, not only did this prove effective in terms of reducing collisions, but also their severity when two bozos still couldn’t work together over sharing the same piece of roadway.

So let’s consider speed, and defensive driving – and what these terms really mean.

‘Speed’ is very, very, frequently cited as a major contributing factor by police, when assessing cause for traffic collisions (I never use the term accident, because they’re all caused by human error, not random acts of nature). But come on, this is very simple; stationary objects don’t collide.  Of course speed is a factor, this is inevitable.

(Paraphrasing the late, great, Harold Smith, here) “An accident cannot occur, unless two or more objects try to occupy the same space at the same time”.  Very simple, the more space vehicles have around them, the less likely they are to impact each other.

Big pause for thought, please.

Is it possible that the creation of arbitrarily low speed limits, combined with excessive enforcement of these limits by police forces, are actually the underlying cause of many traffic collisions?  And that raising the limit – in certain areas – might actually be the best solution to enhance the safety of all of us, even though it might reduce revenues to the government?

The other way of looking at this (the non ex-police officer's view) is that the general public usually believe laws are meant to apply to everybody but them and that is why they accept unrealistic laws. All goes well until they realize they are caught in the cross hairs too. My view is that once we have some integrity instilled into our driving policy, responsibility is the logical outcome. If you post an unrealistic speed limit sign, you can expect the majority to disobey it. Once they disobey it, it's logical if they do so without consequence (which for the most part will be true since punishment is not assured and speed does NOT cause crashes) then it's then logical to assume these same people, which some of course - because of the terrible standards for driver training in BC - will then assume they know better and those laws do not apply to them. It then becomes a vicious circle: Unrealistic laws, drivers break them, it's a learned behaviour, they know better, diminished personal responisibility and so on....   I know it's hard for (some) cops to get this, because they believe rules and enforcement are the answer, but don't you think it's time we tried something a little different? I for one, am ready to raise the bar.

The blame game.  It's come up more than once in this thead.  And who's to blame, apparently?  ICBC, who else!

I'd like to give you some input on this, do with it what you will, but lend me your ear for a moment.

Just to give you some background, I've held a professional license in BC for more than 40 years (my first job out of high school was driving a Mack concrete mixer) and I've driven umpteen zillion miles or kilometers or whatever behind the wheel of umpteen zillion different vehicles.  Or at least, that's what it seems like.  For the record, I hold a Class 1 Driver License, and a Class 4/5/7 Driving Instructor License for both Theoretical and Practical training.  I've been involved in the Driver Training and/or Driver Examination field since 1987.

My background in Driver Evaluation really is extensive; working as a Training Assessment Officer (Driver Examiner) for both Class 4 and Instructor trainee license applicants; working as an evaluator for drivers who have suffered pyschological and/or physical trauma behind the wheel, in helping determine their ability to regain their license; working under the auspices of the OSMV as a DriveABLE evaluator of older folks' abilities and safety behind the wheel.  But perhaps most relevant to this thread, is that I spent two years as an ICBC Driver Examiner, and have conducted more than 4,000 Road Tests in this capacity.

Who amongst us hasn't asked that question, when witnessing asinine behaviour on the part of others - "How on earth did that idiot get a driver license?"  And the answer is simple - the same way as you or me, buddy.

But if you think for one moment that the person you just observed is now driving in the same way as they drove on their Road Test, then who is the idiot here?  Of course they didn't!  Do you seriously think that ICBC cheerfully give Driver Licenses to people who either can't read or purposely ignore simple road signs?  Or people who don't signal their turns and lane changes?  Or people who have no regard for right of way, whether it be for pedestrians or other drivers?  Give your head a shake!  Of course they didn't obtain their license by exhibiting their current behaviour!  So where do you get off blaming ICBC?

There is much that is still wrong with the system, both from the license administration side, and the policing side; an awful lot that needs fixing, and needs to be improved urgently.  But that's a topic for another day.  Meanwhile, quit trying to blame that (weird, monolithic, insurance/licensing authority that actually does pretty good in many areas but does fall down terribly in others) for the behaviour you see around you!

Oh and also, quit with this presumption that more 'training' is going to change anything significantly.  You can't turn a moron into a rocket scientist, no matter how many hours you stick them in a classroom.