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Using a hammer.

A hammer to swat flies

Earlier in the week while waiting for traffic court to start I was speaking with a police officer who mentioned that in BC we use a hammer to swat flies. He was referring to the way the government deals with enforcement of traffic laws. He made a good point.

One thing that police officers often tell us is that their budgets have been cut to such an extent over the last 4 years that rarely can they put together operations for significant traffic enforcement. Although there is always talk of enforcement and campaigns, it is a lot of talk and not much action.

Still, particularly with respect to dedicated traffic officers, there is an expectation that they will hand out a certain number of tickets. You can call it a quota. The police prefer to say that there are consistent patterns in law breaking and so the numbers usually agree within a margin from previous comparable periods. So they set targets. Also known as quotas.

In the minds of many drivers, the chance of being caught is similar to winning the lottery. The likelihood is extremely remote but the consequences are grossly disproportionate.

With respect to drunk-driving cases, all traffic officers are expected to meet the quota so they are on Alexa’s team. In our view it’s not only distasteful, but it’s also the wrong way to motivate people. There should be recognition for good policing. Rewarding quotas just provides an incentive for police officers to lie. A quota in itself calls into question the credibility of police officers from the start. With respect to Immediate Roadside Prohibitions, for example, the officer’s credibility must be viewed in light of the fact that they are rewarded and punished based on their IRP numbers.

Government cheaping out

Equally disconcerting is the BC government’s manner of dealing with budget cuts.

Traffic enforcement is a necessity because if everyone drove just as they themselves pleased it would be chaos on our roads. Stop signs are usually placed where they make sense, and speed limits are often (despite notable exceptions) based on research and some thoughtful consideration of the location. Observing reds lights just makes sense. Nevertheless, lots of people run reds.

The primary method of encouraging people to follow traffic laws is by holding out the threat of being caught. Most people who see a cop on the corner will make the extra effort to stop for the light. If you know there is a speed trap ahead, you’ll probably drive the speed limit.

What happens when the threat of being caught is extremely remote? Most people will violate traffic laws if they think they won’t get caught and they think it will get them where they want to go more quickly. Others will break traffic laws if they like the thrill and they think they can get away with it.

The threat of being caught is what keeps drivers in line. In BC, however, we have observed a significant reduction in the probability of being caught. In fact, it’s far from probable if you commit a traffic offence that you’ll be caught.

Cutting to the bone

The reason for this is because police budgets have been cut to the bone. RCMP officers in Prince George and Kelowna tell us that on any given Friday or Saturday night they can barely keep up responding to calls dealing with violent crimes. They simply don’t have time to stop people for driving offences.

As a result, many significant traffic offences in BC go unpunished, even though they were witnessed by an on-duty police officer. The numbers and quotas don’t represent the degree of lawbreaking.

When enforcement is light, lawbreaking goes up. That’s because people aren’t deterred from breaking the law. The BC government doesn’t want to pay for enforcement. They figure that rather than paying for enforcement, they’ll just make the punishment so significant that it will act to deter bad behaviour.

The example many people know is that of excessive speeding. In 2010, the BC government made it law that officers who stop people driving 40 kph over the speed limit will have the vehicle seized for 7 days.

You can be driving with the traffic through North Saanich at the start of a vacation with your family and lose the family SUV with no chance to review the vehicle impound. Often drivers lose their license for one or two minor tickets. What if you end up dealing with a deranged cop? What if the cop just made a mistake?

The response is over the top. It’s too severe under the circumstances. It’s what the officer was referring to when he said in BC we use a hammer to swat flies.

Bad policy encourages bad driving

Traffic offences are as common as flies. It’s in all of our interest to enforce the rules of the road in a reasonable and fair manner. When the government replaces enforcement with a hammer, they invoke distrust of the police and government. And they fail miserably with respect to encouraging lawful driving.

In the minds of many drivers, the chance of being caught is similar to winning the lottery. The likelihood is extremely remote but the consequences are grossly disproportionate. This inspires people to gamble. This inspires people to take a chance and run that stop sign or red light.

It’s a gamble that can cost an innocent person their health or their life and utterly destroy the lives of their loved ones.

The one thing that has been proven to encourage lawful driving habits is regular, consistent and visible enforcement of the rules of the road.

Somewhere along the road, the BC government made some wrong turns. Instead of funding enforcement they just made punishment over the top and draconian. Their decision to use a hammer to swat flies has been a big mistake that will cost lives in the long run.

If you get a ticket…

If the police issue you a Violation Ticket calls us right away. We’ll explain your rights and tell you the steps we take to deal with the ticket.

In the vast majority of cases we can keep the hammer from coming down on you. Call now to speak with a BC Driving Lawyer.