Investigating Driving Complaints
"The officer wasn't even there! How can they issue a ticket to me based only on the word of the other driver?" A question similar to this one is posed to me fairly often and people seem to be completely surprised that something like this could happen. It's possible, but the procedure is not that simple.
First of all, anyone may make a complaint about someone's driving to the police and expect to have it investigated and dealt with. The first step in the investigation was for me to attend and speak personally with the complainant. I would listen to the circumstances to see if there were enough information to satisfy me that an offence had in fact occurred.
At minimum, the licence plate number of the offending vehicle was needed, but any other details to identify the vehicle and driver were welcome.
If the complainant was willing to attend court as a witness I would take as detailed a written statement from them as I could. This statement was necessary to preserve evidence and could be used by the complainant to refresh their memory of the event if the ticket was disputed and they had to testify.
I would also take statements from any other witnesses that were present if they could be identified.
The content of the statement, but not the identity of the witness, could also be disclosed to the accused driver if an application was made in preparation for a dispute.
My next step was to determine who the registered owner of the suspect vehicle was. A check of the ICBC licence plate database furnished the name and address I required along with a description of the vehicle. I made sure that the vehicle described in the statement matched what I found here.
A personal visit to the registered owner would be made. When advised that their vehicle had been involved in a breach of the Motor Vehicle Act or Regulations, it is the responsibility of the owner (and any passenger in the vehicle at the time) to identify the driver. This is one reason that you must exercise care when you loan your vehicle to someone else. "I don't know" or "I don't remember" leaves the investigator with no option other than to ticket the owner as they are responsible for it's use, even if they are not the driver.
Generally at this point I now had a driver that could be interviewed. I would caution them about choosing to remain silent and then invite them to give me an explanation if they chose to.
Most often the driver would want to explain the incident from their point of view. I would take notes of what they told me if this was the case.
Occasionally this would be the end of the conversation as the driver exercised the right not to speak to me.
I now had to make a decision based on all the evidence that I was able to gather. If there was a clear offence and I issued a ticket, could I successfully conduct a trial that would result in a conviction?
If so, I would write the driver or registered owner a violation ticket. If not, it was time to conclude my investigation and move on.
Either way, I would advise the original complainant what had happened.
In my experience, it was not common for the suspect driver to dispute the ticket. When they did and the ticket proceeded to a trial I was never unsuccessful with the prosecution. I think that this had less to do with my skill as a prosecutor and more to do with the significance of the offence committed.