I recall witnessing a vehicle being impounded by the RCMP in the middle of nowhere on one of our highways. It was the Sunday of a long weekend in a no-service cell zone. The driver was apparently the target of B.C.’s excessive speeding law for allegedly driving 40 kms over the limit. Allegedly or not, the police have been given the power of Judge, jury and executioner. The driver is immediately fined and his vehicle impounded. Even a first offence is harsh. The fine is $368, the impound length is 7 days; the driver receives three demerit points and will pay a Driver Risk Insurance Premium (DRP) of $320 for three years (that’s $940). Second and subsequent offenders face harsher penalties. Once charged, the driver is evicted from his vehicle, and then left to fend for himself. Ironically, the police, supposedly there to serve and protect, have the power to put countless drivers and innocent passengers, including children, at great risk of harm by leaving them stranded. It’s an expensive encounter indeed, given the fine, demerits, insurance hike, cost of towing, storage, alternative transportation, loss of vehicle and burden to retrieve it.
According to theVancouverProvince(BC Justice Ministry), a staggering 18,837 vehicles were impounded between September 2010, when the law took effect, and August 2013. Arguably, if all were first-time offenders (so this is a minimum calculation), the fines alone would have netted $6,932,016, ICBC’s DRP another $18,083,520, and it’s anybody’s guess how many millions the towing companies have raked in. Hook-up charges alone can be $100 and that’s just the beginning of a cost setback running potentially into the thousands.
In North America, insurance companies receive billions of dollars annually in traffic ticket surcharges. In B.C., the government, ICBC, and ultimately the police, gain revenue from speeding enforcement. ICBC manages the Motor Vehicle Branch and provides funding for various police programs. This creates the impression of conflict of interest. Would we give Allstate, Geico, or any other private insurer such power?
The management of speed through appropriate limits is an essential element of highway safety. Appropriate speed limits are a prerequisite for effective and sustainable speed management. In terms of traffic law, speed limits should reflect the maximum reasonable and safe speed for normal conditions. That is, speed limits should be acceptable as reasonable by most drivers and to separate high and low speed behaviour. If lower speed limits are desired, then engineering and other measures should be implemented that reduce speeds to a level that would support a lower limit.
Statistically, most speed-related crashes occur on local and collector roads, which generally have far lower speed limits and prevailing speeds than freeways. Yet, straight-stretch freeways, highway overpasses, and “passing lanes” appear to become speed trap havens.
When speed limits are arbitrary, they have no real safety justification. When speed limits are arbitrary, set through political rather than empirical process, the speed limit’s relationship to the maximum safe speed becomes substantially irrelevant. Therefore, a crash can be considered as speed-related even if it occurs at a safe speed, simply because the speed was in excess of a politically-determined limit. The slogan “speed kills” becomes hackneyed.
We all have the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal or court of law. Under this onerous law, the presumption of guilt prevails. Want to fight that ticket?…..too late, you’ve already been penalized.
Our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides three types of protection: right to life, right to liberty and right to security. Denial of these rights breaches the principles of fundamental justice. B.C.’s excessive speed law appears to do just that. It’s heavy-handed and unfair. Ironically, the penalty can be far worse than what a driver would face if he actually caused a collision.
Our government has indicated a willingness to re-evaluate the speed limits in B.C. Perhaps they should also re-evaluate the fairness of how the law is applied.
The purpose of this article is not to encourage speeding, but to question the process as to how and why speed limits are established and enforced.
D. Glenn Einfeld is a highly knowledgeable and experienced BC personal injury lawyer and BC motorcycle accident lawyer who has successfully litigated many ICBC claims and other insurance claims, including out of province claims, wrongful death, brain injury, spinal cord injury, whiplash, soft tissue injury, and all other serious injury claims.