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Fickle traffic enforcement

In British Columbia there are many police forces that conduct traffic enforcement. We have the RCMP, the BC Highway Patrol as part of the RCMP and municipal forces such as the Saanich Police Department or West Vancouver Police. One would expect to see some slight variation in enforcement but what is always a surprise to us if the significant different approaches to traffic enforcement and the fact that it is rarely consistent even within the policing jurisdictions. Sometimes there are good reasons for fickle traffic enforcement. Often enough, however, there is no logic behind it.

Let’s look at some examples. In the Lower Mainland, if you drive on a highway when road conditions are good, it’s unlikely you will be stopped for speeding if you’re travelling less than 20 kph over the limit. One kilometer per hour over the speed limit is an offence. However, most officers will agree when pressed that they put no focus on speed enforcement when the traffic flow is less than 20 kph over the limit. But then there are a handful of officers who, if they have no other pressing priorities, will issue tickets for 15 over.

Compare this to Vancouver Island. If you drive 15 kph over the limit for any distance on the Patricia Bay Highway (Hwy 17), chances of being ticketed is very high. There is often very strict speed enforcement on the lower part of the Island. North of Nanaimo, however, chances of being ticketed is generally fairly low.

As many have experienced, on the Trans-Canada Highway and the Island Highway between Victoria and the Westshore, the Westshore RCMP may pick you off for using an electronic device by using a spotter located on an overpass or off the side of the highway. The only other location where this is common is North of Kelowna.

In Vancouver it’s rare to see any focused traffic enforcement. Before the pandemic, with a different city government, cell-phone (electronic device) investigations were very common on Oak Street, South Granville and all over downtown. Speed traps on the viaduct were a daily concern most weekdays when the weather was clear, and impaired driving enforcement most evenings. These days it’s rare to see a speed trap in Vancouver.

Why the fickle traffic enforcement in BC?

Police departments have political aims. They always want to show a need for more funding. The cynic in us thinks that’s one of the reasons we see fickle traffic enforcement. Officers tell us that they get different instructions from above and it’s not up to them to question the decisions made by the higher ups. Some of the differences have to do with safety concerns on different stretches of roads. In some cases, it’s an issue of tradition.

As you near either side of Merritt on the Coquihalla Highway, don’t dare driving more than 10 kph over the limit. Why? Years ago there was a higher-up in the Merritt RCMP detachment who looked at the highway and decided there would be zero tolerance for speeding. Officers were sent out every day to stop anyone driving more than 10 kph over the limit.

Because Merritt is out of the way and often not the home of most drivers who were ticketed, it was rare that anyone would dispute their speeding ticket. This tended to encourage the officers because they would rarely need to attend court.

Although times have changed, management has changed and we defend tickets in Merritt all of the time now, there is still a tradition on either side of Merritt to ticket drivers who speed as little as 10% over the speed limit.

We know that one reason traffic enforcement is down overall in the Lower Mainland is because some of the prolific officers, very experienced in traffic enforcement, have retired. Fred, former VPD officer, handed out more cell phone tickets than any other traffic officer. Now retired (and teaching at the Justice Institute), former VPD officer Mark ran a team of officers enforcing speed limits near parks and schools with unmatched zeal. When he and some of his close colleagues retired, that enforcement ended.

Grant “Darth Radar,” former West Vancouver Police traffic officer was responsible for more excessive speeding tickets than any other officer in the province. When he retired, the numbers dropped significantly.

You would think that police in BC could keep up consistent pattern of traffic enforcement, yet we see over and over, for decades now, that the focus of various departments change with the coming and going of officers and local priorities, or lack of priorities. Some police departments are rudderless ships until a more experienced officer makes it a priority, usually after there is political pressure following a fatality accident.

If you’ve been ticketed, we’re here to help. We’ve defended tickets in BC for decades. We’re the original BC Driving Lawyers. We may have represented your friends and family and we’re happy to help you too. Call us now if you have a ticket, drunk driving case or any other matter related to driving.

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