THREE STRIKES - I'm Out!
One 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.