Am I Making a Difference?

Question MarkThis was a question that I asked myself more frequently as my time in traffic enforcement with the RCMP grew longer.  Everyone wants to do their job well, and mine was to encourage the motoring public to conform to the law in the hope that doing so would minimize the number of collisions in my patrol area. If I was successful, no one would be hurt, our insurance rates would fall and I wouldn’t have to write so many tickets.

Is it possible for the average traffic cop to change a driver’s attitude?

The primary tools available to all traffic enforcement personnel are warnings and tickets. How does one choose which is the most appropriate for the situation? Deciding on an appropriate balance and delivering it to the violator in the manner that does the most good was something that I always found to be difficult.  In the face of more and more verbal abuse at the roadside it would have been simple just to reach for the ticket book and teach that driver a lesson.

However, if a warning was what I had in mind when I stopped them, shouldn’t I carry through with that thought? There were many times when I stuck to my original decision and wrote the warning. Most angry drivers settled down when they realized what they were getting, but a few carried on with such venom that I would find myself sitting at the roadside after they had driven away trying to lower my own blood pressure. Occasionally I would even go back to the office and do paperwork for a while because I knew that if I didn’t I would probably take it out on the next violator I encountered.

Tickets are easy to write. I often thought that if I wrote one for every violation I saw, I would never travel more than a few kilometres from the office each shift. Everyone thinks that I had a quota to fill but in reality, I was only subject to a quota once in my service. If I wrote more than 30% of my charges for speeding I could expect to sit down for a chat with my supervisor and be reminded that there were many other types of violation out there that were just as important to deal with. Otherwise, all that I had to show was that I was doing an honest day’s work.

Did tickets change a driver’s attitude? If they are adult in their outlook, I would say yes. The driver would realize that they were ticketed for making an error or deliberately disobeying the rules and not let it happen again. If they were a child, the problem would be mine, not theirs. There might be a slim possibility that they would make a connection between their behaviour and the ticket. If they didn’t care at all, my efforts would be wasted.

Many officers step beyond the basics of the job and embrace the education component of Road Safety Strategy 2025. They take part in many different programs within their community to reach out to drivers before they make mistakes. Some time and effort here can pay dividends later on by helping receptive drivers make the right choices during their driving careers.

As you might guess, I always enjoyed this because it gave me a chance at a positive contact with people. I can’t recall a single instance of the verbal abuse that I suffered at the roadside occurring in these venues.

Finally, how do you measure what didn’t happen? How do you know if you were able to make a difference in someone’s life?

There were few times in my service where I learned after the fact that my interventions had made a difference. One of my co-workers was investigating a two vehicle collision when one of the drivers involved commented to him that if I hadn’t written him a ticket for not wearing his seatbelt the previous week he wouldn’t have been wearing it here either. He realized that he had avoided injury by wearing the seatbelt and I’m sure that this took a lot of the sting out of my ticket.

I’m still keeping the faith by writing on road safety instead of using a ticket book. To borrow a phrase from a friend who has suffered much and still tries to educate others about drinking and driving: “Together we can make a difference!”


Did you make a difference?

My long departed Dad used to say that the measure of a man was if he left this world just a little better than he found it.

In reading your musings, I'm struck by a few things.  First a question of whether you made a difference. Second, was it worth being the sounding board for the verbal abuse. Third, could you have done it better.

Sadly the police have, sometimes by their own doing, lost a lot of respect from the general public. This is a serious problem that needs immediate correction and it has to come from the top down. But also, we have bred a society which does not believe that it has to conform to rules, regulations and civility. In my youth, and I'm sure in yours, to disrespect your elders, laws, authority figures was simply not tolerated. Today, we've told the last two or three generations that if they don't like something .... protest. Laws and courts don't matter.

I too was in a career where I sometimes had to tell people things they didn't want to hear.  Like your documents are not valid, we can't board you.  Or, the flight is oversold and we don't have a seat for you.  But most people understood when you said that the weather was bad and it was unsafe to fly. Even followed by apologies, some flew into a rage but some accepted what assistance we could offer. Guess which ones got our best efforts.

Perhaps though, your career was too long in traffic. While we can withstand abuse ... to a degree, it perhaps makes us stronger.  But it does leave some scars and I understand. This is one person who, if you had stopped me, would never have disrespected you. An apology, probably. But a respect for you and your duty to do your job, of course. However, if you were incorrect in what you thought were the facts, I would have respectfully asked you to hear me out.

But the career is behind you now, as is mine. Yes, I'm sure that you did make that little better difference. I hope I did too.     

Submitted by E-Mail

In my 50+ year driving career I have had one speeding ticket (1986), and one warning about 6 months ago on the Malahat.

In each case, the officer was more than courteous, and I fully realized that stopping me was appropriate.

In each case, the officer had the effect of making me think, and the outcome… being more aware of my driving habits and changing my behaviour…. was very positive.

So, just a word of appreciation for the traffic officers out there, and for your continued efforts.

Submitted by E-Mail

First, your phrase “change a driver’s attitude” is a hyperlink.  Click on it to make sure the website linked is what you intended.

Second, can an average traffic cop change a driver’s attitude?  Don’t know about changing attitude but the halo zone shows that drivers’ behaviours can be changed for s short period of time.  Can drivers’ behaviours be changed for the better for an extended period of time?  Sure, data on seat belt wearing confirms that.

Third, with regard to the education component of Road Safety Strategy 2025, traffic officers could have a major influence on improving road safety.  As the article below shows, their potential effect is seriously limited.


Why similar collisions reoccur                                                               

In Spring 2009, we attended the aftermath of a two vehicle collision at a signalized intersection in Red Deer.  We talked to the two drivers, witnesses, the attending police officer, some EMS personnel at the scene, as well as a more senior traffic officer a few days later.

The near head-on collision wrecked both vehicles beyond repair.  The air bags in the newer vehicle had activated.  The older vehicle did not have air bags.

Thankfully, all three occupants had been wearing their seat belts; as a result, none of them required medical treatment. Two of the occupants were in their late teens or early twenties; the other driver was in late middle age.

Highlights of our conversations with the two police officers are bulleted below:

·        We asked if similar collisions were common or rare.

Common was the response.

·        We asked if similar collisions occur only at the current location or occur elsewhere.

Occur at every intersection was the response.

·        We asked what will happen to the collision reports that the drivers were filling out at that time.

The collision reports will be checked for completeness and for discrepancies in the description of the collision.  The officer will use the information in the collision reports, along with comments from any witnesses, together with the position of the two vehicles, their direction prior to collision, and the degree and location of damage, to determine which driver was at fault and what charges would be laid.  The collision report will be forwarded to Alberta Transportation.  The City of Red Deer Traffic Department will obtain a copy of the non-identifying information in the collision reports.

·        We noted that two of the city high schools were located nearby, that one of the drivers was of late high school or early college age, and that many of the students at the high school frequently drive through the intersection.  Considering the proximity of the schools, the age of the driver, and the frequency of the type of collision that had occurred, we asked whether the police service shares relevant information about such collisions with the students so that they might know how to avoid similar crashes in the future.

The response was no, that is not done.

·        We noted that there were several driving schools in Red Deer and asked if the information was shared with driving instructors so that they might alert their students about the errors that led to the crash and inform them of techniques for avoiding similar outcomes.

The answer, once again, was no, that is not done. 

Over the last thirty years, the people at many major industrial worksites in Alberta made several changes in their safety practices to reduce the frequency and severity of lost time injuries in the workplace.  One of the changes was to ensure, that when something did go wrong, that the event would be examined to determine what modifications were required to avoid repeats.  This included communicating the essence of the cause and consequences of the occurrence to all relevant site workers.

The effectiveness of those changes at work is confirmed by the subsequent reduction in lost time injury rates, often to less than ten percent of historical values.

It was with that industrial mindset that I began looking at traffic safety many years ago.  It seemed very strange to learn that traffic officers would collect collision reports that described what went wrong, why it went wrong, how serious the consequences of the errors in judgment by drivers were, and then place the information in files that the public could not access.

A cynic could superficially look at the process and conclude that traffic officers must be hiding the information that the public needs because continued collisions, somehow, are in the best interests of the police service. 

While it is true that much of what we need to know to improve traffic safety is hidden in inaccessible files, it’s not because that is the choice of traffic officers.  There are too many horrific aspects to traffic law enforcement – from being physically at risk when apprehending a driver who disregards his or her personal safety and that of the general public, through having to view and describe dismembered bodies at collision scenes, to being the person who first faces family members with tragic news – for such to be the case.

Traffic officers do the grim aspects of their work because that is an unavoidable aspect of achieving their goal of serving and protecting us – sometimes from ourselves, sometimes from others.

I have no doubt that traffic law enforcement officers would like us to know enough about the driving errors that we make, and about strategies for avoiding those errors, so that everyone arrives safely at their destination, every time.

The reason why they don’t tell us is not because they don’t want to.

It’s because we won’t let them.

And so the same collision keeps happening again and again and again.


Let me know if you would like to know which driver did what wrong.

Such a situation would not be tolerated on major worksites in Alberta.  If a harm incident at work occurred, everyone else at that location who could be in a similar situation would be informed as soon as possible of the wrong actions and their consequences, as well as the correct actions to take to avoid repeats.


I check all links before I post them on the site.

Why this link works for me in two different browsers but does not work for some other people I cannot fathom. One of you told me that it doesn't work if he clicks on it but does if he copies and pastes the link.

I've removed the link.

Did you make a different.

Commenting to anonymous.

I worked in the resource industry in B.C. and over the last couple of decades safety meetings were required by all crews monthly. If an accident happened as you explained it was analysed by all involved immediately and had to be discussed at the next safety meeting. And as you said accident rates plummeted. 

A friend of mine put it very well years back referring to traffic police. If you had the same safety inspectors in your plant for a 100 years, they continued to tell you the same reasons for accidents yet the accident rate never changed, would you not hire someone else to do the work?

And that to me is the main problem. They only focus on one aspect of the traffic laws. The easiest to enforce.

Currently our laws in B.C. say that we have to keep right except to pass. Where does one see the cop car driving down the road? In the left lane! They can't even follow the rules of the road themselves so how can they enforce the MVA when they only know a few of the codes? Lead by example not by do as I tell you, not as I do. Like this weeks article on the lady making the left turn. Maybe she was in the right personally I think she did fail to signal properly but that is immaterial. The main thing she was not paying attention. And that to me is the problem. Enforce all laws equally and then see how the accident rate changes.

I grew up being told there is no such thing as an accident, some one screwed up. I have driven these roads for over 60 years and never had an accident. It does not mean I am a good driver just that I knew enough not to put myself in harms way.

The dragons Den group do have

The dragons Den group do have morals. A B. C. ( current or retired ), was on their show to get funding to produce a license plate holder that would block the last letter/number of the plate so that cameras would be unable to record the whole plate. Therefore, no ticket. Jim, the Mr. Lube and Boston Pizza owner, ripped into him about the unethical aspect of being a law enforcement member promoting this behaviour.

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