Police presence no deterrent for speeders
By Steve Wallace, Times Colonist, July 18th 2012
Over the years of being in the driving-school business, I have had the opportunity to do some very interesting, informative and educational activities.
I was invited to do a ridealong with a police corporal who was doing speed enforcement on Highway 97 between Quesnel and Williams Lake, B.C. We were set up on the side of the road in plain view of traffic travelling north and south, on an open stretch of highway.
It was a sunny day with great visibility, not a cloud in the sky. We intended to do the radar-enforcement session for about an hour. I asked why we were in a wide-open space, easily identifiable to any approaching traffic.
The police officer said it would not make a difference to the number of speeders observed. I begged to differ. So he began to show me something I would never have guessed.
It was only minutes before our first speeder approached the radar unit. He was clocked at well over the 100 kilometre-per-hour limit, at a whopping 140 km/h. He was pulled over and given a speeding ticket.
Several other drivers were witnessed going over the speed limit but not one was ticketed. I asked why.
The officer’s response was direct. He told me that he would be too busy to pull every speeder over and had decided to only give tickets to drivers who were 20 km/h over the limit. I expressed my opinion, rather emphatically, that we would have precious else to do but sit and watch cars go by with that kind of speed-cushion tolerance. He disagreed.
To prove me wrong, he turned on the flashing emergency lights atop the police cruiser. I had been concerned that few drivers would be caught speeding because of our obvious, identifiable presence.
A few moments later, a speeding vehicle approached at about 150 km/h and was ticketed as well. I was shocked that the offending driver did not see the police cruiser with its emergency lights ablaze.
The sergeant explained the obvious: Drivers were so lacking in concentration and observation that they simply did not notice a fully lit-up police car at the side of the road.
The officer told me that he could actually stand in the middle of the oncoming lane of traffic and clock an approaching speeder doing well over the speed limit. I again begged to differ. He wagered lunch on the proposal. No sooner had he stood in the centre of the oncoming lane, radar gun pointed down the road, than a speeder appeared going about 135 km/h. I paid for lunch.
He wanted me to understand that police do not have to set a quota of enforcement tickets for speeders. Drivers were not paying attention to their surroundings, let alone being on the lookout for police cars. People are also more apt to speed when traffic is light.
This same police detachment did airplane-assisted speed enforcement. Lines on the highway at certain intervals were used to determine which drivers were speeding. The police officer in the plane would count the number of seconds it took to go from one measured painted line to another and radio the result to a constable on the ground, who would ticket the offending drivers. This program, despite being very effective, was cancelled due to the expensive nature of the enforcement.
The most productive and positive community program was the buck-a-belt campaign. Drivers were given a dollar if all vehicle occupants were wearing a seatbelt. This program was initiated in the early months of mandatory seatbelt use. The drivers receiving money were pleasantly surprised. The odd things I noticed that day while handing out money will be the topic of a future column.
Steve Wallace is the owner of Joan Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and in the Central Interior of B.C. He is the former vice-president of the Driving Schools Association of the Americas and a certified B.C. teacher.