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Do they need to show me my speed?

When you get a speeding ticket it’s normal to wonder whether the police did everything correctly. How did they measure your speed? Did they do it correctly? One of the most common questions we are asked is do the police need to show me my speed? In other words, is there an obligation on the police to show you the reading on the Radar or Laser?

The reason this question is a big concern is that we have a natural desire to know the evidence that the police are relying on. If the police are claiming that you were speeding, surely they have evidence? Right?

Physical evidence vs. fleeting evidence

In certain types of cases, there may be physical evidence of an offence. This may be the illegal weapon that the police seize or even the documents that show that a substance was a certain drug. Video evidence or an audio recording might capture the incident and usually, such evidence must be disclosed to an accused.

Sometimes, however, the evidence is fleeting and can’t be seized or captured in some manner. The classic example is the odour of liquor on the breath of a driver. A police officer can record in some location that they smelled an odour of liquor and then testify about smelling the odour when it comes time to go to court. 

The evidentiary breathalyzers in police stations have a printer that generates evidence. Those instruments record certain aspects of the test to ensure the reliability of the reading. The instrument destroys the evidence and what you get is a printout that tells you the projected breath-alcohol content.

What about the speed reading on a Radar or Laser gun?

Most of the speed measuring devices used by police in BC have the capacity to lock the speed on the screen. In other words, they can either be set to hold the highest speed of a target or they can freeze the reading when the officer presses a button. At that point, the reading remains on the screen for a period. Unlike an evidentiary breathalyzer, there is no printout. There are no computer records. No certificate is produced to show the alleged speed.

It’s important to remember that speed-measuring devices are simply that: measuring devices. If a police officer is concerned that your mud flaps are not in compliance with the law, the officer might get out a measuring tape to check their distance from the ground. The officer’s observation of the distance as measured is something they will record. It’s not necessary for them to photograph their measuring tape. The observation of the officer as described in court is the evidence supporting the allegation.

When it comes to the reading on a Radar or Laser unit, the officer may make a note of the speed. When it comes time to present evidence, the note is not presented to the court. The officer simply needs to testify about the speed that was displayed. The note may be an issue regarding the reliability of the officer’s testimony, but the note is not presented by the prosecution to establish the offence. The evidence is the oral testimony of the police officer.

Show me my speed!

There is definitely no recognized obligation in law for the investigating officer to proactively show you your speed on the Radar or Laser unit. But what if you request to see it? What if you ask the officer to show you your speed? Isn’t there a disclosure obligation to provide the evidence?

Disclosure obligations do not happen at the roadside. If you’re under investigation for murder, you have no right to disclosure until the matter begins proceedings in court. Similarly, with a speeding ticket, there is no obligation for an officer to provide disclosure until the ticket is disputed and disclosure is requested. This is not something that happens at the roadside. So even if you ask, the police officer can deny your request. You have no right to look at the speed as locked on a speed-measuring device.

Should I ask to see my speed anyway?

Generally, we find that people who ask such questions roadside tend to stand out in the officer’s memories. In other words, police officers may issue hundreds of tickets and have no memory or a vague memory of the event.

But when a driver that they stopped asks such questions, it changes it from a normal uneventful stop to an event that the officer remembers with greater detail. As a consequence, they are often better at explaining what happened when it comes time for the trial and this is rarely a good thing for a driver trying to defend a speeding ticket.