Delivering the Wrong Message

ExclamationA serious single vehicle collision occurred in the Shawnigan Lake Area on September 1st. Four 19 year olds were hurt, two critically, after the driver spilled an iced cappuccino on herself and subsequently lost control of her vehicle. She struck the right curb, overcorrected and crossed the highway, rolling down an embankment and coming to rest against some trees.

Thankfully there was no traffic coming in the other direction or any other road user present to collide with.

A constable from the Shawnigan Lake Detachment was quoted in an article by a Victoria Times Colonist reporter. "It’s unlikely charges will be laid." "It was just an unfortunate incident that occurred.” “Everyone drinks coffee in their car.”

I'm used to the violator using what I like to call the Lemming Defence: "Everyone else does it!" but this has no place being parroted by the police when wrapping up a collision investigation. There is no difference between this and losing control because of other forms of distracted driving. Yes, I feel sorry for the driver and her passengers, but I also feel that in this case if there is sufficient evidence for charges they should be issued.

Our safety as a road user depends on everyone doing the right thing, and that is concentrating on the task of driving properly. This driver took a small liberty that ended up injuring 3 other innocent road users and had the potential of causing much worse. "Everyone drinks coffee in their car" is not a justification for doing it, nor is it a justification for not taking action if action is due.

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Source Article from the Victoria Times Colonist

Four teenagers on their way from Victoria to enjoy the warm waters of Shawnigan Lake Monday afternoon were injured when their car rolled down an embankment.

The rollover took place on Shawnigan Lake Road near Sooke Lake Road just after noon, said RCMP Sgt. [should be constable] Kevin Hopkinson. Two young women, the driver and a passenger, received serious injuries and were airlifted to Victoria General Hospital. Two young men received minor injuries and were also transported to hospital by ambulance. All four were age 19.

Hopkinson said the driver of a 2008 Volkswagen Rabbit became distracted when she spilled an iced cappuccino on herself.

“The car veered to the right and caught the curb. The wheels hit the gravel. The driver reacted, steered back on the road but unfortunately overcorrected. Then the car swayed back and forth on the road,” said Hopkinson.

The driver lost control, crossed the centre line and veered into the other lane of traffic, eventually hitting a ditch and rolling down the embankment, where the vehicle became pinned against two trees.

The driver and young men were conscious at the scene. The other young woman was unconscious and firefighters had to use a hydraulic rescue tool to free her from the car. She remains in critical condition at Victoria General Hospital with a severe concussion, but is expected to recover, said Hopkinson.

It’s unlikely charges will be laid, said Hopkinson.

“It was just an unfortunate incident that occurred,” said Hopkinson. “Everyone drinks coffee in their car.”

All four were wearing seatbelts, said Hopkinson, who believes the driver’s seatbelt saved her life.

“It’s just a good reminder for drivers to understand that no matter what you are doing in a vehicle, any distraction can be deadly.”

Shawnigan Lake Road was shut down for about 45 minutes for air ambulance and B.C. ambulance crews.

- See more at the Victoria Times Colonist web site.

No kidding, wrong message

Now there's a perfect missed opportunity to place blame on the responsible party if I ever saw one.  Someone is not doing his job properly.

Distracted driving is just that...

May it be drinking (or attempting to drink) coffee, talking on cell phones, eating, shaving, putting on makeup, reading a map or programming a GPS... it's all distracted driving. Consistency in charging the distracted drivers is an ugly necessity if we are to put a stop to this. While the driver will be liable for a single vehicle accident and the passengers will have a bodily injury claim against her insurance. No amount of money can really compensate what those passengers have gone through. Not to mention the increase in that driver's premiums don't come close to compensating her passengers' injuries suffered. My premiums will also be affected by her poor choices. The officer must ticket any and all distracted drivers if there are to be proper records maintained and real change to be affected through statistics and eventually the courts.

Bad habit

I'm wondering if Sgt. Hopkinson has been in the habit of driving a police car while drinking a beverage.


Submitted by E-Mail

You it the nail on the head again.

I look at the latest round of ICBC "distracted" commercials, and I think they miss the point by cutting out just before a crash.

They need to show the results and aftermath,  especially for new drivers like the one in your article:

- facially disfigured young  people,

-  young jocks in wheelchairs watching their friends play pick up games, etc.

Critical injuries can have lifelong effects.

Maybe  a tag line asking "What can that cup of coffee really cost you ? "

What are we paying the Police for?

I completely understand that our Police forces have a very tough job to do.  They are concerned with more serious crimes like drug trafficing, and many think that traffic enforcement is just not macho enough for them.  However, when they are already on scene of a completely avoidable accident they have no excuse not to take action to dissuade future violations.

Our ICBC premiums are going up precisely because of this kind of incident.  I don't mind paying for my own stupidity, but I resent having to pay for the stupidity of our Provincial government which had the opportunity to completely ban cell phones and other forms of electronic devices, but chose not to.  I believe eating and drinking (anything) falls under the distracted driving laws.  Perhaps the officer was just trying to give the driver a break, but in this case he went way too far.

More Serious Crime?

Having spoken with you, I expect that this is just a bad turn of phrase.

There are very few serious crimes in the sergeant's day, or week for that matter, that involve the serious injury of other persons. An injury or fatal collision is a significant event and while it may not end up being dealt with criminally, has consequences far in excess of most criminal events. We do not give them the weight that they deserve.

Bad turn of phrase?

I guess I didn't make it clear that I was not expressing my own opinion about whether this was a serious incident or not.  A couple of years ago DriveSmartBC had an article mentioning the Blueline Forum, a place where policemen/woman hang out to discuss their occupation.  Since I am heavily invovled in traffic concerns in my locality (mostly speeding and distracted driving) I thought it would be a good place to get the police point of view.  I couldn't figure out why our local police force didn't seem to be interested in enforcing the speed limit on a road that they described as "a paved goat trail" and where the 85th percentile speed is 67 kph in places.  So I went online and asked for an officers point of view.  I was basically laughed off the forum, and eventually the forum moderator shut down the discussion because he thought the idea was so outrageous.  It was the police officers themselves who said they had better things to do, and this was expressed by the majority of those who responded to my original post.  The most favourable response I got could only be described as neutral at best.

I have no doubt that there are many dedicated police officers out there who take incidents such as you described as very serious indeed, but in my area I was told by one officer that they were just wasting their time handing out tickets.  I am still puzzled as to why they think that way.

Turn of phrase? Or misunderstanding the role police play?

I honestly don't think that one can generalize about police per se, or women or black people or LGBT's for that matter, come to think of it.  They're all different, as groups and individuals.

But I do understand that it would be utterly impossible for police to ticket every single infraction that occurs on our streets and highways, all of the time; and also, that when they do so, they must consider whether or not their charge and consequent penalty is likely to hold up in a court of law.

So I also don't understand the title and implication of your earlier post ("What are we paying the Police for?").  Surely, we rely on them, given their resources, to maintain civil order as best they can.  They won't ever be completely successful, which must be tough for them to realize and accept.  There are more marijuana smokers now than there were when they first tried cracking down on it several decades ago, and there are more drivers collectively travelling beyond the legal speed limit.  Thankfully, there's little correlation between the two groups - unless all the business men heading to work on Monday morning had a quick toke over breakfast!

How the police have responded to you in some other forum is irrelevant.  That was some other place and time, and none of us have read the dialogue.  Sorry.

But your apparent belief that levying some serious charge (and what would that be - a 6 point ticket, or a 10 point ticket from the criminal section - because there's nothing applicable to spilling a coffe in your lap) would send some kind of message to other drivers who might have been considering taking the same risk is ludicrous!  Do you seriously think that other teenagers would get some message from that which would affect their behaviour?  Forget it - that's why the gruesome videos they used to show to Driver Education classes in High School half a century ago aren't used any more; they don't work, they just disgusted people, or scared the heck out of them.

For pity's sake, according to the information we've been presented with, she wasn't speeding, she wasn't impaired by anything, she wasn't using her cell phone and she was responsible enough to ensure that she and her passengers were all wearing their seatbelts.  In a modern car, with cupholders and airbags and ABS and Stability Control, this terrible accident may well not have occurred; never mind the Race Driver training, which would only be a last resort when everything else has gone pear-shaped anyway.

I'm sorry, I don't mean to engage someone head-on like this in a forum of this nature, but I sincerely think you're wrong.


If an event precipitates a series of mistakes,
the event is not the blame for the mistakes.
Lack of training, skill and experience is.

Was it really the coffee that forced this driver to enter into an over-correction cascade?

Would banning coffee while driving have prevented a similar crash by the same young driver if the triggering factor was somebody not doing a shoulder check? The video of the Langely-Lexus crash is a perfect example of what an over-correction cascade is, and what it can lead to, without the involvement of coffee.

In this case, coffee was a factor that exposed the driver's inability, not the cause of the crash.

So in essence, banning distractions and other trigger factors only obfuscates the undertrained ticking-time-bombs driving on the roads, waiting to explode at the first sight of an out-of-the-ordinary event.

P.S. Mandatory race driver training for all!

There's another way to look at this.

Around 1999, when I was working as an ICBC Driver Examiner, I was conducting a Class 5 Road Test; the applicant was an experienced driver from South Africa, one of many who immigrated to Canada around that time.

As we were southbound on Lonsdale approaching the intersection of 15th Street, the light was red but I could see that the east/west light was amber.  A westbound driver - who should have stopped, and could have easily enough - instead gunned it to get through the intersection rather than wait for the next green.  Meanwhile, there was a 9-year-old boy, eager to cross the street at the west crosswalk; at the moment that the southbound light went green, the pedestrian light went to 'Walk' (or the visual equivalent) and he was off like a rocket without a sideways glance.

The westbound driver nailed him so violently that he was thrown through the air and richocheted off the front end of an eastbound van that was stopped on the other side of the road, and then just dropped in the road, inert.  In all my years of driving I've never seen anything so sickening and shocking.  I can still see it in my mind; I thought he might have been killed outright, he was hit so hard.

There were many people around to call 911 and already rendering assistance, and my applicant was terribly distressed by what we had seen, so we continued through the last couple of blocks of her Road Test; remarkably, she kept it together and passed.  But as soon as I was back in the office, I was on the phone to the RCMP to offer my eyewitness account of what had just transpired.  I was upset by the driver's stupidity and irresponsibility, and determined to do whatever I could to see him held to account.

The officer who took on the accident investigation and case file followed up on my call, and I was able to provide a statement as to what had occurred.  But I remained concerned, and wanted to know how things had transpired from there; did the kid survive, how badly was he injured - and what was the driver charged with?  That guy deserved to pay, in my opinion.

About three weeks after the occurrence, in response to my nagging, the officer let me know what had eventually happened, and what they had done about it.

Miraculously, the boy was on the way to recovery in hospital, and it was expected that he wouldn't actually suffer any long term physical effects thanks to the resilience of youth.  But what quite surprised me was the decision by the RCMP that they had elected not to charge the driver.  Why?  Because the guy was so emotionally overwraught and upset by what he had done that they simply didn't see any point.  It had become obvious that he was going to be living with that horrendous moment for the rest of his life; and he sure as hell wasn't going to be speeding up to try and make it through any more traffic lights.  Further penalties on top of this seemed redundant.

The comments by Sgt. Hopkinson were stupid, no doubt about it.  I'm guessing that he felt somewhat defensive because he had made the determination not to charge that young woman, and perhaps rationalized this poorly.  But maybe he also realized that after inflicting serious injury on herself and her friends, not to mention destroying her car, further penalty wasn't going to make any difference to anything.  Her life has been turned upside down, and she can never have those moments back, she can't rewind the film.  She won't ever do this again, even if there comes a time when she can afford another car and the insurance payments, (and assuming she has the guts to get back behind the wheel); after this crash, I would rather have her on the road than many of the self-righteous morons who are out there, quite frankly.


Submitted by E-mail

I agree with your answer to the enforcement of absolute speed limits. However, recently, police were broadcasting the message that they are only concerend about those 20kph over the posted speed , is sending the wrong message. I don't have problems with 120 kph on the island highway under good driving conditions, but am concerned that the there are many drivers who will drive at 139 kph, even in poor conditions.  At some point, the asolute speed is a hazard depending on conditions. It is scary to think that someone towing a boat or trailer at almost 90mph is within acceptable limits. (120 plus 19)

I rarely drive 120, because I use more fuel and I'm not in a hurry.

I don't understand why the Minister of Transportation raised the speed limt from 110 to120 when RCMP and traffic safety specialists advised against such a move.

I would like to see the return of photo radar,use of drones to monitor high crash sites as well as more police presence.

I think BC is going back wards in traffic safety and the higher ICBC injury claims cost ,and Insurance cost will continue to confirm this.

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