Q&A - Making a Driving Complaint to Police

Q&A ImageHave you ever felt upset enough about something that happened around you in traffic that you wanted to make a driving complaint? I'm sure that we've all felt that way at one time or another but haven't followed through.

Perhaps it's because we didn't know if it was worthwhile or if anything would happen to the offending driver if we did.

Here is what you need to know in order to make an effective driving complaint to police in BC.

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Record the Licence Plate Number

Probably the single most important piece of information to gather is the license plate number of the offending vehicle.

Write it down and keep the paper that you wrote it on to refer to later in court. At the very least, this is all that the police need to start an investigation with.

Details of the who, what, where, when and why come next. The more you can recall and provide to the investigator the more likely that the investigation will result in charges against the offending driver.

Like the license plate number, write these down at the first possible opportunity so that they will not be forgotten.

If It's Serious, Call 911

If the driving behaviour is serious and could result in immediate harm to others call 911 and make the report immediately.

If this is not the case, a call to the police non-emergency number for the area the incident occurred in as soon as reasonably possible is sufficient. After you have provided the particulars of your case, ask for and record the file number of your complaint.

All complaints are given a file number and this is what you will need if you follow up on your complaint at a later date.

How Serious Are You?

There are three levels of involvement in a driving complaint. From least effective to most effective they are:

  1. You report the incident as an anonymous complainant
  2. You report the incident, identify yourself, but decline to become involved any further.
  3. You report the incident, identify yourself and commit to attending court if necessary.

The Anonymous Driving Complaint

If you report as an anonymous complainant, all that the police can do is patrol the area of your complaint and react to something that they see the suspect vehicle do, if anything.

This type of complaint is usually assigned a low priority.

I'm Sort of Serious About This

If you identify yourself but decline a court appearance, the police can patrol for and try to intercept the vehicle as they would for an anonymous complaint. If it is found the driver can be advised of the complaint and cautioned about their driving.

If the registered owner is not driving or the vehicle is not located, police may choose to send a cautionary letter to them advising how their vehicle was being used and leaving it up to them to deal with the driver.

Willing to be a Prosecution Witness

If you identify yourself and commit to a court appearance if necessary, patrols will be made and an investigation started. You will be asked for a written statement of the details of the incident.

This importance of this is twofold, the police have full details of the incident recorded and you have an accepted method of refreshing your memory for court purposes.

How the Police Investigate

When I started an investigation like this, I would identify the registered owner of the offending vehicle and visit them personally. I would advise them that their vehicle had been involved in a breach of the Motor Vehicle Act and require them to identify the driver to me.

Failing to do this is an offence, even if it is the registered owner who was driving at the time.

I now had a driver I could deal with directly or I could charge the registered owner for the original offence and failing to identify the driver.

My next step was to speak with the driver. I would outline the complaint to them, advise them that they did not have to say anything in response, but if they chose to explain I would listen and possibly choose to use the explanation in court if it came to that point.

At this point in the investigation I now had to decide on the success of a prosecution if I charged the offending driver. If there was a substantial possibility of conviction I would charge (usually by way of a violation ticket). If not, I would caution the driver if it was appropriate.

In either case, I would then call the complainant back and tell them what had occurred.

It Doesn't Always go to Court

If the offending driver was charged it did not always result in a dispute and court appearance for the complainant. These incidents usually involved driving behaviour that was significantly out of the ordinary and many of the tickets were paid or ignored and subsequently deemed convicted when 30 days had passed from the date of issue.

Traffic Court

When the ticket is disputed, you can at the very least expect a telephone call from the investigator telling you when and where the dispute will be held if you don't receive a paper subpoena.

Take your notes with you on the court day and be a few minutes early to deal with parking, finding the courtroom and speaking with the investigator who will most likely also be the prosecutor.

When the case is called, you will be asked to recount the incident to the court, and then answer any questions from the prosecutor and then the accused or their lawyer.

That's all there is to it. Even though the formal atmosphere of the court can be intimidating, if you relax it is not an unpleasant experience.

Once you have testified, you may sit in the court and watch the rest of the proceedings, including the court's decision on the guilt of the offending driver.

If they are convicted, you will know the penalty. If not, you will know why.

Commercial Vehicle Violations

There are some alternatives for reporting commercial vehicle violations by reporting them to Commercial Vehicle Safety and Enforcement.

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Okay I have to explain the situation.

In our neighborhood we have an extremely loud Dodge Truck. The truck can be heard from a kilometer away when the driver drivers the way he normally does. The noise from this vehicle, day and night, is very annoying to say the least. Every single time the truck is driven, the whole neighborhood, as well every neighborhood that it drives through is being disturbed by the excessive noise.

This excessive noise is being created from an aftermarket free flowing exhaust system. The noise level is not accepted as being pleasant, and warrants an immediate on-site noise infraction ticket, as well, removal of the offending mufflers.

This disturbance has taken place for 6 months now, with numerous complaints that have not done anything to have the owner ticketted, and the offending mufflers changed to a stock type that are way quieter.

The problem comes when the officer does the follow up call to explain there is nothing that they can do, as they don't have the manpower to sit and wait for the vehicle to be driven, and catch the vehicle in motion.

The next problem is that, some officers even state that they have to listen to the offending vehicle, then determine if it really is a noise issue, then hand the registered owner a vehicle Inspection request, stating that the exhaust system more then likely does not pass Motor vehicle noise standards.

Then, other officers state that they cannot go to the residence and ask the registered owner to start up their vehicle, because it is not the proper proceedure.

Other officers state that they don't have proper testing equipment to be able to test the offending vehicle.  I then suggest that it is not their job to do the noise test, but that of a proper testing facility that the offending vehicle will have to be taken to when the notice for inspection is served by the Police.

The process of having to call in many noise complaints, over and over again, by different residents, is, to say the least, tying up Police resources un-nessesarily, and one complaint against an offending vehicle should be enough to justify a response by Police, as well, a solution to the complaint.

I need to know the proper proceedure to follow, to have this problem, as well as future noise problems, dealt with effectively, to the point where I need not keep calling in the noise complaints to find they haven't been resolved.

Do I have to submit a letter of complaint to the Police immediately?

Do I need to provide Police with a video of the noisy vehicle?

What is the solution?

Many years ago, one would get pulled over by Police issuing a notice that if you didn't have your muffler or faulty exhaust system repaired or replaced by a certain time, the vehicle would be taken off the road.

Due to the new Policing methods of a complaint driven system, local patrolling does not take place, and law enforcement has totally changed to the point where many are getting away with disturbing the peace.

Ah, I see where you are going now.

The officer involved in the investigation of your complaint may be perfectly justified in issuing a ticket based on your complaint. You pick up the phone at the time of the incident, complain, provide the date, place, time and nature of the complaint (noise) along with the license plate number and description of the offending vehicle. Demand that the driver be charged, provide a witness statement and confirm your willingness to attend court as a witness to support the charge. Enlist your neighbours to do the same, which of course will strengthen both the complaint and ultimately the court case if the ticket is issued and disputed.

The ball is now in the officer's court and they are bound to investigate it. Properly, what they would do at this point is determine the registered owner of the vehicle and attend to their address for follow up. The officer would inform the owner of the substance of the complaint and invite their response. (In the case of a hazardous moving violation the identity of the driver would be demanded here and the driver investigated instead.) Here, offering to listen to the vehicle's exhaust noise level if the owner chose to demonstrate might be part of the investigation. If demonstrated, it provides more evidence, either that it is not loud, or it bolsters the complaint as well.

The officer now has to decide if there is a good possibility of conviction if the ticket were written. If so, it may be done. If not, then the investigation is concluded, but in both cases after the original complainant is notified of the action taken and the justification for it.

If you are not satisfied with the outcome, you may complain about that as well.

You don't need to be able to identify the driver when you complain, and an investigation may proceed without the driver's identity. Don't accept this as an excuse for the police not following up. The Motor Vehicle Act provides authority to demand the driver's ID at the time of the offence, and both they and the owner are responsible for the vehicle and it's use.

You have described a number of circumstances where the officer either does not know the proper procedure for investigating the complaint or is providing you with an excuse for not wanting to take any action.

On the other side of the coin, police are busy, and if you don't want to become involved as a witness in court to see the situation to an end, there are lots more immediate problems where peope do and the police will focus on where they can make a difference. Don't stop half way, effectively saying "I want to complain, but I don't want to get involved beyond that."

Okay, once again, I have a problem with the solution to a noise complaint, and the proceedure.

Say, one, two, or three different neighbors call in and complain about a noisy vehicle on a specific date.

First of all, their witness statement has been made and documented via the call to complain to the RCMP.

I, Jane Doe, heard a very loud vehicle coming down my street 12 times on Jan 12th, when I looked out it was a White Dodge Pickup with Canopy, BC License Plate #"NOISE". The driver is a white male in his early 20's, and resides at 123 Noisy Lane. This vehicle noise is disturbing me and the other neighbors, and we demand that the driver/owner gets a ticket and has to remove the excessively noisy mufflers from his vehicle once and for all. The vehicle is being driven in an aggressive manner and thus, the noise is extremely disturbing.

First of all, under Kelowna Municipal Noise Bylaw 6647, the offending vehicle should receive a $500 fine for the first noise disturbance, and $500 for each subsequent one called in.

My statement of complaint(when I called in), along with all the vehicles information is just enough to have an officer, either Bylaw, or RCMP issue a ticket immediately. All the officer has to do is prove the vehicle is noisy, and respond by writing up the ticket, based on what he has heard, and my complaint. Having 1 or more similar complaints from other residents, should pretty much put the icing on the cake.

Under the Kelowna Noise Bylaw, no sound levels are specified, but a noise disturbance which disturbs the peace, rest, enjoyment of a resident.

Why do we have to supply, yet another statement of complaint, besides what we have said on the phone, in our original complaint to the RCMP? I told them I am willing to go to court in my original complaint, so did the other residents that complained. The lack of policing by the RCMP and Bylaw officers had led to this, and residents are victims to a failing enforcement program of existing laws.

And yes, Police are busy, but when someone breaks existing laws, someone has to respond to our complaints.

What is the point in having laws that are not enforced?

Or law enforcement proceedures that may deter residents from following through, because of loopholes!

British Columbia appears to be light years behind other Provinces and USA States' in the lack of proper law enforcement and ticketting offenders, our committee is going to try our best to have better "Noise" enforcement by contacting MLA's, the Solicitor General, and all other respective Authorities in regards to the lack of.

I see two points in your post:

1) Why is a written statement required?

This is so that the substance of your complaint is permanently documented and identified by your signature. It forms part of the investigational record and shows the details to defence if it is requested as part of disclosure.

2) What is the point of having laws if they are not enforced?

If they are not enforced because they are no longer valid, then it is up to the legislature to remove them.

If they are not enforced because there are more pressing matters for police, then it is up to the population to increase the police force if they wish them to be enforced.

If they are not being enforced because the enforcers can't be bothered, then it is up to you do force the situation by going to the head of the local police force, the head of the provincial police force, the appropriate police complaints commission, the municipal council, the MLA for a provincial rule and the MP for a federal one.

If they can't be enforced because they are impractical, then they need to be amended by the appropriate legislative body so that they are.

I drive the same road to the highway every morning that has a speed limit of 50 km.  Only a few blocks over, there is a road to the same highway with a speed limit of 80 km.  Almost every morning I am intimidated by a driver, never the same one, who tailgates me because I am doing the speed limit.  Quite a long portion of the raod is downhill and I am afraid to brake in case the car behind me hits me, almost happened once.

I phoned the local police department and asked them to patrol that road in the mornings.  A year later, I have never seen it once.

Should I be calling daily, weekly? 

I would call and complain each time I was tailgated, providing the license number of the vehicle doing the tailgating and requiring that something be done.

What I can't understand is how the noisy Harleys are allowed on our roads, with their loud exhaust noise. I mentioned this to a friend who actually owns one, and he said that the noise is part of the experience, the uniquness of riding a 'hog'. I do not like it! Do the police have an 'understanding' with the Harley drivers that I am unaware of?

The worst situation is at a stop sign on an uphill incline, the driver will rev the engine (as if it is going to stall), and then when accelerating, the roar is deafening. So glad I don't live anywhere near a hill.

I know another friend who had a neigbour start his Harley in the morning (6:30 - 7:30), right outside her bedroom window, and let it 'idle' for 10 minutes before driving away. She complained to the local Town and they sent someone over to let the driver know there was a complaint. She had to do it twice, and then the morning idling stopped. Thank god!

I think all vehicles should be treated equally. If my car put out as much noise as a typical Harley Davidson motorcycle, it would be quickly pulled over and ticketed (I hope). Hey, maybe I would like the noise, think I am special, everyone look at me!