THREE STRIKES - I'm Out!

SoapboxOne of the more frequently asked questions that I receive from visitors to this site concerns reporting bad driving behaviour to the police and having the offending driver held accountable. Until recently, I would point the person to the article Q&A - Making a Driving Report to the Police and encourage them to take an active role in the complaint so that something effective would be done. When I was working and received an earnest complaint I would take the time to investigate it and issue a ticket if warranted. If not, I would explain the situation fully to the complainant when I thought that I would be unsuccessful prosecuting and decided not to issue a ticket. I cannot recall an unsuccessful prosecution of a ticket like this as the driving behaviour that led to it was usually so far out of the norm that it was easy for the justice to decide.

Based on personal experience, I can no longer recommend that it is worthwhile to make an after the fact driving complaint to the police. If something seriously wrong is in progress around you on the highway, dial 911 and hope that the miscreant can be located and dealt with while the issue is occurring. Chances are good that the police will make some attempt to intercept the driver and put a stop to the bad behaviour. Otherwise, it may become an exercise in frustration and a waste of your time.

This is what led to my conclusion:

Strike One

Shortly after I retired from traffic policing I had an impatient driver pass me and three vehicles behind me over a double solid line with one vehicle approaching in the oncoming lane. I was able to record the licence plate number of the offender and as soon as I arrived at home I called the non-emergency number for my local detachment and reported the incident, indicating that I was willing to attend court as a witness if the driver was prosecuted.

I was contacted by a constable about two hours later by phone. She wanted to know if I could identify the driver involved. I said that I could not, I had focused on recording the vehicle licence plate correctly so that I could report it. "If you can't identify the driver, there is nothing that we can do." Huh. I paused and considered my response. Unfortunately, I responded emotionally and asked if the constable knew who she was talking to. "Oh" she said, "You are that retired traffic member..." I confirmed this and honestly, expected a little professional courtesy at least. "Well, you know that we will have to serve the ticket to the driver in Nanaimo." "Yeah, so..."

I provided a written statement via e-mail to the constable in support of the investigation and waited patiently. I never heard from her again with regard to my complaint.

After waiting for a significant period of time I followed up on my complaint by speaking to her watch commander. He read the investigation file and called me back. The driver had disputed the ticket and a trial date had been set. I had not been notified and consequently had not attended court. Neither had the constable. She was unavailable due to "operational requirements," the nature of which were not specified. Not that it would have made a difference if she had attended, without me to give witness testimony the only option available to her would have been to call no evidence and see the ticket dismissed.

Being lied to outright by the constable at the start should have been an omen.

Strike Two

Within a year, I was again passed in the same manner outlined in Strike One. I thought that I would approach a complaint in what I hoped would be a more effective manner. I contacted the head of the local traffic section and asked if he would have one of his dedicated traffic members deal with the situation. The corporal contacted me and I provided him with a written statement of the circumstances. I waited again.

A number of months later I met with the corporal and asked how he was doing investigating my complaint. He explained that he had been busy, the complaint particulars had been sitting on the corner of his desk for a couple of months and one day he just reached over and pushed the papers into the shredding bin. It was now too late to investigate. Case closed.

At this point, I was seriously questioning whether it was even worth my while to become involved when I witnessed a serious case of driving misbehaviour.

Strike Three

I've purchased a dash cam for my vehicle and captured the following video:

 

Watch the silver SUV in the left lane at the beginning of the video. He's a novice driver displaying his N and is clearly in a hurry as evidenced by the following distance he leaves behind the vehicle that he meets up with. Not happy to wait, he changes lanes over the solid line into the left turn lane and then threads the needle between the car he passes, the median barrier and an oncoming left turn vehicle. Following this stunt, he continues to tailgate the vehicle in the left lane as he leaves sight.

This kind of driving behaviour could and maybe should have been prosecuted as dangerous driving under the Criminal Code.

In light of my previous experiences with making driving complaints, I spent 24 hours debating with myself over whether I should bother or not. I finally decided that this incident but at least two other drivers at significant risk and had to be dealt with. I knew the incident occurred just inside the boundary of my old patrol area, so I called the operational communication center (OCC) in Courtenay. "Where did this incident occur?" I explained. "It's not our area, call Nanaimo." I asked if the patrol boundaries had changed since I worked there. "It's not our area, call Nanaimo." But... "It's not our area, call Nanaimo."

An aside here, any RCMP detachment or OCC can take a complaint and forward it to the appropriate place. They tend to discourage this because it is work for them and barring the second attempt at contact, it's the same amount of work for you.

After a few minutes of contemplation, I did call the Nanaimo OCC. "Is this incident currently in progress?" No I responded. "If it isn't in progress, we won't take a complaint over the phone. You will have to come in to the detachment and write out a statement before we will take your complaint."

Arrgh! So, I cheated again and contacted the head of Nanaimo municipal traffic directly. He took my complaint, a copy of the video and my statement and said that the incident would be dealt with.

After waiting for a while, I contacted him and asked how the matter was progressing. He said that a violation ticket for driving without reasonable consideration for others using the highway had been issued to the driver. Following that, the ticket had been withdrawn. Apparently I wasn't the only one that was upset by this incident and had the licence plate number of the offending vehicle. Someone else had also made a complaint that was followed up on by general duty. The general duty member had decided to close the file by issuing a warning to the driver. In consultation with the local traffic court judicial justice of the peace it had been decided to withdraw the ticket because the JJP indicated that the prior warning would result in dismissal of the ticket if the matter came to trial.

This is not a case of double jeopardy and given the circumstances, I don't think that it is an appropriate decision. However, the JJP has effectively rendered his decision in the matter and that's where it stops.

Conclusion

In view of my experience, should you consider making a report to police expecting something to be done when you witness significantly unsafe driving behaviour? I would like to say yes, by all means. However, unless you are lucky enough to have your complaint assigned to an officer who is determined to follow up, you will likely be met with either a brush off from the complaint taker, a report taken "for information purposes," or disappointment. Reports taken for information purposes are essentially an exercise in number gathering. At best, all they say is that bad driving is occurring and that a particular vehicle, not driver, might play a higher than average part in the commission of driving offences.

I have heard the opinion expressed that during the time taken to investigate a driving complaint, an officer on the road can issue many violation tickets. The speaker intended to convey that dealing with many drivers in the first instance did more for traffic safety than dealing with one driver after the fact in the same span of time. I disagree. Following up after the fact may show a bad driver that just because you are not caught when you commit the offence doesn't mean that you've gotten away with it.

Will I make another driving complaint? Not likely unless someone puts me at significant risk or I witness them cause a collision. Unfortunately, I will still be expecting to be disappointed.

Another Not So Bright Idea

Hmm, RoadSafetyBC (aka The Superintendent of Motor Vehicles) can take action against a bad driver in the public interest, right? I have the police investigation file number and the driver has been identified in it, right? I should contact RoadSafetyBC and see if they are interested, right? Wrong.

I e-mailed RoadSafetyBC via the link on their web site. I explained the situation and advised that the identity of the driver was known to police. Would anything be done? I received what was obviously a cut and paste reply telling me that they were most interested in unsolicited reports about drivers who were unfit, but bad driving should be reported to police as the identity of the driver could be different from the registered owner. So much for reading my e-mail for comprehension.

I responded with a request for a contact telephone number so that I could discuss the situation with them. They replied with the same cut and paste, but this time highlighted the text advising that the matter should be reported to the police.

I tried my best to be civil and responded with the following:
Good morning! Let me see if I can paraphrase this to make sure that I understand. You will accept input from citizens only if it applies to driver fitness. If the driver is fit, but dangerous, you are not interested, that is a police matter. If the police can't handle the complaint properly, that's between me, the police and the applicable agency that receives complaints about police conduct. Meanwhile, our novice driver, who really needs an attitude adjustment keeps on driving... Unfortunately, that leaves the public with the perception that no one really cares. What would you do in my shoes?

Their final response reiterated yet again that they could not do anything unless the driver was identified and provided information about how to make a complaint against the police.

Thinking that Belle Belsky and Shannon Cubbon, who were identified as the Ministry of Justice Roadsafety Stakeholder Relations people responsible for the replies that I received might be in the BC government employees directory I checked. No luck.

My final e-mail response was to reiterate that the identity of the driver was known and that there was a police investigation file on the matter.

It appears that Belle and Shannon have decided that they are not going to respond further on this matter.

Comments

Submitted by E-mail

I'm sorry to hear about the lack of satisfaction you got from your three traffic complaints. I'm in Ottawa, where I try also to report instances of unsafe driving, overly loud vehicles, etc., using the police online reporting system. Of probably more than a dozen complaints, I only got a good outcome once, when an extremely noisy muffler violating the noise bylaw turned out to be a stolen vehicle with a mismatching license plate. That one got towed, the others just got warning calls. When I was living in other jurisdictions, I managed twice to get drunk drivers caught, after maybe reporting a half dozen of them. I think ultimately it's a numbers game -- not every report will stick, but eventually if you keep on reporting, it will pay off.

It's frustrating to be a concerned citizen to be shuffled aside as the generator of extra paperwork, and I imagine extra frustrating for a former cop, but I hope you don't give up on reporting, even though it feels like a big waste of time. We have to keep on keeping on or the dangerous drivers out there will win. Best wishes and compliments on your excellent website.

Three strikes your out

I have in the past been successful writing out drivers complaints and will continue. I am still waiting over two years to appear in court but it will come around.

The province of BC needs to hire more traffic inforcement officers and it would I believe pay for itself. The drivers that do not stop at stop signs is a big one in our area, running red lights, failing to signal,signaling after they are already in the turn lane, and the list goes on. Definitely need more traffic inforcement.

 

In my opinion ...

... if you're not part of the solution, then you're part of the problem.

Taking into account your item from earlier this year, which demonstrated an obsession with handing out speeding tickets (whilst virtually ignoring fundamental lane discipline and tailgating behaviours) on the part of BC police forces, it seems clear that they are not taking their responsibilities seriously; they are, absolutely, part of the problem.

We should all be outraged; policing is paid for with our tax dollars, but mostly what they do is try to pull in more money (as opposed to making the roads safer) in order to keep their political masters happy.

ICBC, as an insurance company, and as a licensing authority, should be vociferously demanding that police attitudes change.  I've lost a lot of respect for the police forces in this province - the RCMP Highway Patrol cowboys in particular - over the years, and so have many other thinking people.

RoadSafetyBC

I'm not that impressed with the Office of the Superintendent either. They don't read e-mail, you can't telephone them, that pretty much means they don't want to hear from you.

What is strange is that some time ago I wrote about finding a GLP driver toking up while he waited in the lineup for road construction. I called the OSMV and they essentially told me that they were'nt interested. Someone from that office read what I wrote and got in touch with me wanting to take the matter up. I guess it depends who you hit when you contact them....

You called, they wrote.

So much for timeliness. The GLP could have graduated by then.

James

IFIXCATS Mobile Heavy Equipment Repair.

Media Maybe?

I'm wondering especially since you used to be a traffic officer & with video proof with the time and place if the media may be interested in finding out the steps you took and how RoadSafetyBC even brushed you off.... I,m thinking some public shaming may make them pay more attention next time and take these reports seriously, especially when video proof has been taken.

Just a thought, and concidering how close it was to being an almost certain fatality.

The report.

Maybe we would all get better traction if we just sent our videos to Squire Barnes, and he could start a new kind of video compilation, like he does with the funny commercial one he does weekly.

that one is funny, this would be markedly less so.

James

IFIXCATS Mobile Heavy Equipment Repair.

Try again to make a comment.

I guess my comment vanished into cyber space?   I made a suggestion that seeing as you used to be a traffic officer & with video proof, and seeing as police & RoadSafetyBC are both on record as not doing anything and refusing to take any action against what was close to being an almost certain fatality,,,,, How about seeing if Global or CBC MarketPlace or some news outlet might be interested in helping shame the people involved in doing nothing to get a potential killer charged, why would this drivers action go unpunished? How irresponsable of all you contacted, this should have been taken very seriously and I believe the public would get behind this if was to become a story in the news. Maybe police & Government would change their policies, especially when clear video evidense is in place. There is a growing number of dash cams out there,,,,, Just a thought:-)

Submitted by E-Mail

Last week I was following a driver down the inland island highway. He was driving a small size older model pickup truck with a canopy. He had changed out the license plate light for a much brighter LED type light that was as bright as a headlight and it just glared everywhere and was very distracting even to me. He had also moved his license plate over to the left and it hidden behind his bumper so that it was not totally or easily  visible.

This was during the day and the light was glaring right into my eyes. I think it would be awful during the night and even more distracting.

Because I thought this was illegal and would hate to see an accident at night because of the light, I took down the license plate number and I called into the RCMP. After telling him about the light he asked why I called. I thought it was a safety hazard and hoped that no one would be blinded by the light at night. The officer told me that there was nothing he could do and he wasn't going to pursue this. He had bigger crimes to deal with..

I thought there were specifications about the license plate lamps. He told me no so there was nothing to do.  He did not want to open a file, and he was clearly not the least bit interested in doing anything about this. I told him I didn't want to waste any more of his time and hung up.

When I got home I looked up the motor vehicle act and sure enough there are specifications section 3.03 for display and 4.16 that the light must not be projected to the rear of the vehicle. This was clearly in violation of both sections.

My impression was that the officer was to lazy and couldn't be bothered to fill out the paperwork. All I was asking that he inform the driver to change it so it wasn't blinding the driver behind.

I was very disappointed that he couldn't be bothered to pick up the phone and inform the driver.I know that would take a few minutes but is it really too much trouble in order to prevent an accident and injuries to  someone?

Options

Unfortunately, you have two options at this point: shrug your shoulders and carry on or follow up with the detachment commander. If you are disappointed there, then the police complaints authorities are next. It might be educational to speak with the detachment commander about it, but ultimately I expect that both avenues will lead to the same conclusion.

Sadly, we're paying for a service that we are not receiving.

Submitted by E-Mail

I totally agree with you...we are paying for services we are not receiving. That was an easy one to deal with. I am just shrugging my shoulders and hoping this situation will not cause an accident at night with blinding someone. I have seen and heard of ads from the RCMP asking for drivers to call them when they see hazards or safety issues. Well, I guess that one doesn't count. Next time I probably won't waste my time reporting anything which isn't the answer to solve the problem of complacency with many drivers who just don't care or just don't know there are regulations around these things. And I won't dare say anything to the driver either for fear of backlash from them. If the RCMP don't care, then why should anyone else is the attitude that starts to prevail which is unfortunate because then it promotes that even more. And they say they have too much workload now. hmm...

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