We Teach Driving Like Your Life Depends On It

Lack of licence, attention irk police

By Steve Wallace, Times Colonist, September 23, 2011

Among the pet peeves cited by traffic-patrol police are drivers who do not have their licences in their possession. Contrary to popular belief, drivers do not have 24 hours to produce the documents.

The pet peeves of traffic-patrol police are both predictable and surprising. They range from the simple to the complex.

The most often quoted peeve, cited by several of the constables I have talked to, involves the simple act of identification. Drivers who do not have their licence in their possession may be issued a traffic ticket. Police everywhere have the right and duty to know who they are dealing with in all instances. It is the obligation of every driver to be able to properly identify themselves to authorities. Big city police departments are so much more demanding of this requirement. They are much more apt to issue a ticket than rural police in the unfortunate situation where a driver has absentmindedly left the licence at work, home or in a second vehicle. It is so much easier to find out who someone is in a small town. A phone call or two will often solve an elementary identification problem.

The idea that a driver has 24 hours to produce the licence is a myth. It is not the law and never has been. Most constables grant a good degree of latitude when it comes to producing a driver’s licence, but it is understandable that many of them are frustrated by the lack of due diligence by the driving public.

Police everywhere are frustrated by the lack of immediate attention paid to emergency equipment when they are engaged in a pursuit or high-priority vehicle response. Lights flash and sirens sound, yet many drivers are inattentive to their surroundings and are slow to react in a legal fashion to police cars engaged in important work. The law says drivers must pull to the closest side of the road and stop. Where no practical place to stop is obvious, such as on a narrow bridge, the driver must pull over when the first opportunity presents itself.

People die because of slow response time, often caused by inattentive drivers. Cameras in patrol cars now make it easier to charge offending drivers than in the past. Legislation in most jurisdictions across our country, governing engaged parked police patrol cars, demands drivers lower their speed dramatically when approaching and passing such vehicles.

Perhaps the most emphatic pet peeve from police constables involves the example given to children by parents and adults charged with the security of kids. When the police attend crash sites where children have been killed, it breaks their hearts and their spirits to see that seat belts were not worn. When they see kids on bikes accompanied by parents without helmets, they cringe. Children so often bear the brunt of poor decision-making by adults. When dad or mom does not wear a seat belt or bicycle helmet, it sends a poor but strong message to the kids. This act of irresponsibility has a lasting impression on police who have attended the scene of far too many fatal crashes involving children.

The distracted driver seems to be on everyone’s mind these days, police included. Cellphones, texting, coffee cups, cigarettes, GPS, pets, sound systems, food consumption, ear buds, boomboxes and a host of other distractions ( I am sure I have omitted a few) make the police think we are all on the verge of collective madness. Motorists applying makeup, reading the newspaper, watching TV, changing a diaper and changing the driver-passenger seat position while driving are all horror stories recounted by police constables.

If there is one message the police want to get across to drivers, it is this: The task of driving is the most complicated function most of us will ever attempt. It deserves our undivided attention, as it is the chief cause of accidental death in our society. Take it seriously.

Steve Wallace is a member of the College of Teachers and the owner of Joan Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and the Interior of B.C.

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