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We Teach Driving Like Your Life Depends On It

Even police aren’t perfect with rules of the road

April 19, 2013

By Steve Wallace, Times Colonist, April 19th 2013

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It’s very rare for a police officer to make an incorrect call on a matter of road safety, but not impossible, columnist Steve Wallace suggests.

Everyone makes mistakes, even the police. Last month, our driving-school car was stopped in a roadside seatbelt check.

A veteran constable approached the student driver and told him the reason for the interruption of the driving lesson. The instructor expected to be on his way with the student once it was confirmed that both he and the student were buckled.

The RCMP constable then asked to see not only the driver’s licence of the learner but that of the instructor. He then walked to the back of the student’s vehicle and went to his police cruiser.

The constable returned to the driver education vehicle and announced that the student and instructor were in violation of the Motor Vehicle Act for not displaying an “L” on the back of the vehicle.

The instructor informed the constable of the exemption for driving schools, since a “student driver” sign must be displayed on the back of the driving-school car during all conducted instruction.

The veteran constable was unaware of the exemption and went back to his police cruiser to confirm the information. He returned to announce that he was very embarrassed and apologized for his ignorance of the regulation.

The entire check took twenty minutes. The instructor was going to be late for the next lesson unless he shorted the student. He continued to teach the student for the scheduled 1.5-hour session. The remainder of his instructional day had to be set back. The student was tense throughout the ordeal.

Driving schools are not chronic violators of seatbelt legislation. Pulling an instructor to the side of the road when engaged in a lesson seems odd. At least the constable was polite throughout, despite being uninformed.

I experienced another example of an uninformed constable a few years ago, when I asked a student to make a left turn onto a one-way street from a solid-red traffic light.

This manoeuvre is included on several driving-test routes in B.C. A police car with lights flashing appeared behind us. The RCMP constable approached the petrified student driver and asked her what she had done wrong. She had no idea.

He told her that she had made an illegal left turn. At this point, I intervened and informed the constable of the law in B.C. I asked him where he was from, and he replied, “Saskatchewan.” The law in that province only permits the left on red from a one-way to a one-way street.

We were only minutes away from the driver’s test and told the constable we were going to the testing station and he should call his superior for further information and clarification. He got the necessary clarification and felt awful about upsetting the student immediately before a stressful driving test. She did pass the road test and he breathed a sigh of relief, as did I.

The commanding officer was less than kind. Rumour has it that he posted the indiscretion on the bulletin board of the detachment office for all members to see, lest others were unaware.

These are the only two times in over thirty years that my driving school vehicles have been stopped by the police. With the exception of these two examples, we have been left to do valuable instruction without interruption. We appreciate the courtesy. After all, everyone makes mistakes, and most of the ones our students make are forgiven by observant constables.

Steve Wallace is the owner of Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and in the Central Interior of B.C. He is the former Western Canadian vice-president. of the Driving Schools Association of the Americas. Steve is a registered B.C. teacher and a graduate of the University of Manitoba.

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