For travelers westbound to Hope on BC Highway 3 June 23rd, 2013 the scene played out like a tourist-nightmare reality TV episode. Dozens of vehicles were pulled over and seized by police. In the parking lot of a tourist pull out, a couple with children and two dogs are awaiting one of the stream of tow trucks that are carting vehicles to a seven day impoundment. Another family’s rocket to an extreme speeding violation is that echelon of performance, the first generation Toyota Echo. If British Columbia’s speeding laws are structured to catch and impound extreme speeders and dangerous drivers, then the intent of the law seems lost.
While the couple in the Echo unload all of their weekend luggage and try to arrange some way home, other similar vehicles accumulate in the parking lot, most seem genuinely surprised at being pulled from a herd of similarly flowing traffic. On site a cop of bellicose manner lays into drivers, raging about the dangers of speeding, suggesting to some they are driving like “assholes”. This is not a case of a third world police corruption, cars held hostage until stranded owners and families can bribe them out of impoundment, but instead a sanctioned ensnaring of average drivers in British Columbia.
The local detachment of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) have chosen to set up this speed trap at the first passing lane following approximately 15 kilometers of canyon turns, which offers no safe opportunities to pass. The passing lane stretch is a downhill grade, where even the slowest of vehicles then surpass the 80 kph speed limit – or what most American drivers would know as a grindingly slow 49 mph.
Sitting for over an hour and observing police behavior at a tourist pullout mid-way down the passing lane, it’s clear the RCMP are focusing their attention to the start of the passing lane, where drivers initiate a pass. What they are not doing is determining if drivers are returning to the normal flow of traffic after the pass is executed, the moment the driver reaches the excessive threshold of 40kph/25mph over the limit they are considered an excessive speeder. So the context is lost, a normal driver overtakes then slows and merges back into the right lane with the flow of traffic, a speeder, ostensibly the target of the initiative, continues onwards over the limit. Without this context the intent of a driver’s actions is dissected to a couple seconds of examination, and the normal driving behavior of a safely executed pass is criminalized, with a fairly extreme punishment attached.
Scene set, this seems not a trap to catch only dangerous speeders. This is a trap designed to maximize returns at the expense of ordinary drivers, those who want to use the passing lane to pass a motorhome or slow driver that has been backing up traffic, only to have that vehicle accelerate a bit on the downhill straight stretch, near ensuring they are at the threshold of “excessive” speed to perform the pass.
In British Columbia, excessive speeding is now defined as 40kph (25 mph) above the posted maximum. In this case 120kph or 74.5 mph, less than 10 mph above the posted limit on most US highways. What’s clearer is that in many circumstances this law has effectively made passing illegal.
Other violations that could improve the safety and flow of road users are ignored however. In BC, it is illegal for vehicles in the righthand lane to accelerate when being passed, one assumes to prevent this type of scenario. Tellingly none of these law breakers are pulled over, despite their participation in creating a situation requiring correspondingly higher passing speeds. So while passing generally requires a driver to move at 20-30kph faster than the vehicle they are overtaking to perform safely, if the slower moving vehicle now traveling downhill accelerates to 10-20 kph over, not an uncommon occurrence, then passing easily bumps up against or into “excessive” speeds for a brief moment during the pass, a point clearly being capitalized on by police in this setup.
Roadside, there is no legal recourse for these drivers. Some 36km (22 miles) east of the nearest town, Hope, there is no reasoning with the RCMP officers on site.
Claiming the “I’m just following orders” defense, officers on site argue that they have no discretion under BC’s speeding laws. To be clear, the officers claim that the law mandates police impound vehicles traveling 40km/h (25 mph) in excess of the speed limit for seven days. Where police clearly do have discretion the location where speed traps are set up, and which vehicles they “cherry pick” out of traffic. There is also discretion whether the speed trap itself violates the intent of the law by interpreting passers as speeders, provided that is the law’s intent.
No doubt government officials and area RCMP will have been patting themselves on the back for a highly successful initiative against speeding, based solely on offender counts, but the reality is that ordinary drivers are suffering impoundment of their vehicles. This is a case of false positives, an act of near-entrapment by the provincial government and RCMP effectively engineering a transgression of regular behaviour on the road. We are all told in our driver instruction books to wait for the passing lane to safely overtake, and for years prior the September 20th, 2010 law, police had reasonable discretion in deciding whether a driver was speeding or not, and drivers were not stranded by roadside impoundments. There was a tacit understanding that making a pass at reasonable speed wouldn’t land drivers a massive ticket or impoundment, that reasonable speed judgement made in context to the circumstance.
This is no longer the case, and now with excessive application of the law comes excessive punishment. Drivers tagged as “excessive” incur the ticket, travel, towing and storage charges – generally amounting to upwards of $2000. Without oversight, checks or balances there is no legal recourse for drivers against this action, and even if they should effectively fight the ticket, there is no escaping the towing or storage charges or inconvenience of being left potentially stranded away from home and without a vehicle for seven days.
For now the vehicular travel situation in British Columbia amounts to a travel warning befitting a corrupt third world regime and police forces. Essentially, passing is illegal here, exceed 40kph/25mph over the posted limit and you risk immediate roadside impoundment with no recourse. More questionable, given the severity of the punishment meted out, and lack of any recourse, is that this scenario does not require any actual evidence, only an officer’s visual estimation.
If you are a vehicular traveler, you may wish to find more civilized places to spend tourism dollars and time without such traveler risks – you can at least negotiate with police in Mexico.