BC’s changes to the Motor Vehicle Act aim to get tough on speeders through the mandatory impoundment of vehicles exceeding the posted limit by 40 km/h. The question is, will the new laws have the desired effect on riders?
Rules Easily Broken
Riding through your favourite set of twisties on the notoriously low-speed limited Sunshine Coast? Well, if “Baldy’s” red and blues weren’t enough of a problem, as of September 20th, 2010 new provisions under Bill 14 in British Columbia’s Motor Vehicle Act have given the police and ICBC a sharper set of fangs. The changes are targeting “excessive” speeders with fines and impoundments, along with a legal structure that assumes guilt and is open for police abuse.
With the enactment of the new provisions drivers or riders of vehicles exceeding the posted speed limit by 40 km/h can expect to pay up to $737 for ticket while their vehicle is impounded for a mandatory seven days. As an additional blow towing and storage fees are due up front.
For most sport bikes on the market, an entertaining entry speed for a 50km/h marked corner sits at double the suggested. So getting into the joy of a turn puts you at
100 120, or 40km/h over the limit an 80 km/h maximum highway. Congratulations, your Sunday rip has made you an “excessive speeder”.
Subsequent to your offense, the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia will charge an annual driver-risk premium of $320 for three years following the infraction, and drivers will receive a three-demerit points on their driving records.
Those are the penalties for a first offense, second and third offenses are more heavily penalized. Those caught speeding excessively a second time, and you face a 30 day vehicle impoundment and associated towing and storage fees, and an increased $370 annual driver-risk premium the next three years. For a third or more excessive-speeding offense within two years, drivers will suffer a 60-day vehicle impoundment, towing and storage fees, and a $430 ICBC annual premium for the next three years.
September 4th, 2010 the Vancouver Sun reported that B.C. Superintendent of Motor Vehicles Steve Martin gleefully stated, “You’re going to be stranded on the highway.”
Martin followed with an example of the effects of the changes to the Motor Vehicle Act, “If they’ve [the speeders] got their family in the car and they’re heading up to the Okanagan for a long weekend on the Coquihalla, they’re still going to lose their car.”
Martin seems immune to the safety concerns of stranding families or individuals on the roadside where threats include pedestrian strikes, weather and wildlife. Police however aren’t.
Commenting on harsher drunk driving and stunting laws that came into effect along with mandatory impoundment of excessive speeding vehicles, Vancouver Police Union president Tom Stamatakis is concerned, that officers are facing more pursuits and are wasting time waiting for tow trucks after vehicles are impounded, he says.
“Ultimately, from a front-line police officer’s perspective, we’re ending up not targeting the person that’s responsible for the very serious tragedies that we deal with on an ongoing basis,” said Stamatakis.
A Potential for Police Abuse of Riders
Another element Martin has emphasized is that the new anti-speeding measures are mandatory and not at the discretion of traffic-enforcement officers. That introduces a larger problem for motorcyclists in British Columbia, the potential for police abuse of the new laws.
Even Stamatakis acknowledges this potential in a Oct. 21st Vancouver Sun article, “Even if you support the change of regulations, I don’t think any of us support the fact that we’ve [Police] now become the judge and the jury. Our job is to enforce the law and another part of our criminal justice system should be dealing with the guilt or innocence thing and imposing what the penalties should be.” Stamatakis also makes it clears that the new laws were put in place without consulting the Vancouver Police Union.
With no onus on proving guilt the compulsory roadside impoundment of a speeders vehicle gives officers a new tool in penalizing riders without any oversight, checks and balances of due process. The concern in BC’s riding community is that officers looking for a way to penalize a rider for more trivial or personal reasons can rely on a “visual estimate” of a rider’s speed as reason enough to impound the motorcycle.
In a September 2, 2010 News Release from the Ministry of Public Safety and Solictor General – Michael de Jong, Solictor General overstated that, “Excessive speed is often a death sentence for everyone involved – the driver, their passengers and other innocent road-users,” said de Jong. “We want to save lives by going after the kind of driver who drives significantly and dangerously over the posted speed limit, and then get them off the road. By doing so, we hope to make our streets and highways safer for everyone.”
The statistics are tragic, but they may overestimate the problem.
Martin quoted that an average of 167 people are killed due to excessive speeds on B.C. roads annually, with May and September being the peak months. Assumedly this correlates with the first and last long weekends of the summer. Mind you, that number represents a decrease over 2005 statistics provided by the Ministry which attribute 176 fatalities to speed related crashes. The actual count may be lower, as the publicly accessible statistics state that, “Crashes may involve more than one contributing factor, which can lead to injuries and fatalities being counted in more than one category.”
For 2007 the statistics (the most recent available on ICBC’s website) saw speed attributed fatalities drop to 154, but also notes the same “double counting” where a collision attributed to “Excessive Speed” and “Alcohol” or “Driver Inattentive” would be counted in both categories.
With this statistical clumsiness of deaths attributed to other causes also being attributed to speeding the statistics become slippery and the number of related deaths inflated.
Unfortunately, “Speed Kills” is a much more politically sexy mantra than “Inattention’s gonna get ya!” Not every driver or rider speeds, but at one point or another everyone is inattentive. That’s borne out by the statistics, with “Driver Inattentive (34.3%)” ranking the number one contributing factor in 2007’s injury causing collisions, which carry a greater social cost. For injuries speed ranked number three with a solid 19.9%.
Attacking speeding though is a politically savvy for a BC Liberal Government that gained power partially on the platform of removing photo radar. Photo-radar, many argued, assumed the guilt of the vehicle’s owner, despite the driver being at fault.
The cameras though may have been responsible for downward trend in fatalities that started four years before the Liberal rise to power. In 2001 “unsafe speed” attributed fatalities reached a low of 146, then jumping to 157 in 2002 when photo-radar was discontinued. Photo radar, however, wasn’t a tool open to abuse by law enforcement agencies, in short police couldn’t use the cameras to profile riders.
Circumventing the Charter of Rights
In a press release Martin openly admits that the Solicitor General’s and Public Safety Ministry modeled the revisions to the Motor Vehicle Act after similar measures in Ontario, which came into play in September of 2007.
“They [Ontario] introduced significant fines ranging from $2,000 to $10,000 and also vehicle impoundments, and what they have seen are better road-safety outcomes as a result. In terms of fatalities per hundred thousand, Ontario leads the country in results.”
What Martin fails to mention is that the province of Ontario is now appealing a court decision that found the province’s street-racing law is unconstitutional. The law exposes a speeder to a possible jail term, without any ability to defend against it in contravention of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. BC’s Bill-14 sidesteps the issue by not explicitly stating imprisonment in its terms.
A Questionable Basis for Law
An analysis of numbers involving “fatalities per hundred thousand” creates the problem of establishing statistical significance. Given 2007’s publicly available figures of the 3,852,365 licensed vehicles in BC and 154 fatalities there were 0.003997% deaths partially attributed to excessive speed in the vehicle population. Using Martin’s figure of 167 fatalities and the same population of licensed vehicles that percentage rises to 0.004335%. Calculate the standard deviation on the percentages of fatalities for licensed vehicles in BC from 1995 through to 2007 (.000395%), and you require a change greater than 0.00079% to be statistically significant. That’s using the common practice of assuming statistical significance as being two standard deviations from the mean. With a difference of 0.000338% the figure Martin is using isn’t statistical significant.
Brush off a bit of university linear regression analysis and the total number of collisions over time is negatively related to fatalities attributed to speed (-0.0311).
That brings into question the very the “Speed Kills” dogma, that underpins the new law. As does fatality statistics on the Autobahn, where in 2005 the German Federal Interior Ministry (Bundesministerium des Innern) found that Autobahn sections with unrestricted speed have the same crash record as sections with speed limits.
This is not to say that speeding is acceptable. But these figures, indicate BC has enacting laws that undermine the fundamentals of Canada’s legal system and handed over powers open to police abuse based on weak, incorrect, or politically motivated reasoning.
As important, confounds abound as aging vehicles leave the road, driver and rider assists such as traction control and ABS becoming the norm and safety technologies continue to improve, all factors to be considered by the public in the future when the BC government will shows us these laws are worth the price.
The Effect on Riders
Confronted with a fine for excessive speeding, mandatory impoundment their motorcycle and roadside assumption of a rider’s guilt, how will motorcyclists respond?
“I ran,” says a local BC rider and member of the community who’s advocated safety measures including a graduated licensing system. This is mere days after the new law came into effect.
“I was riding up the Sea to Sky, and there was a roadblock just south of Squamish. There were two sportbikes that had been well in front of me earlier were pulled over. There was another bike, and two cars also. The riders were sitting on the roadside on hands behind them, the tow trucks were there along with the police.”
“I never saw a cop or helicopter on my way up, and traffic was passing me at 120 on the straights.”
“I turned tail and ran. I’m guilty by default anyways. There’s too much on the line. I’m not going to just hand over my bike and potentially my livelihood without a fight.” In truth our rider may have a point, the benefits of running and escaping, may outweigh the risks and inevitability of an impoundment.
Our rider, who for obvious reasons would prefer to remain anonymous, may be correct in expecting prejudiced treatment from the police. While one roadblock is to small a sample to draw a statistical conclusion from, it can be an indicator. Using the 2007 numbers again, motorcycles represent 98,639 of the 3,852,365 licensed vehicles on the road, or 2.56%. Remember, sportbikes comprise a fraction of that, but for the three sport bikes pulled over; there should be roughly 97 other vehicles.
While online forums are infamous for bravado and posturing, a recent survey on BCSportbikes.com, indicates that a lot of sport bike riders are of a similar frame of mind. Eighty-one percent of the respondents indicated they believed, “More issues will arise due to people trying to evade the police.”
In a heavy handed approach to trying to stop speeding and assuming guilt rather than innocence British Columbia’s campaign against speeding may have worsened the situation as riders and drivers try to evade enforcement. Unfortunately, only the statistics will tell and even then the results might not be obvious.