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‘L’ and ‘N’ rules confusing, ambiguous

January 20, 2014

Some driving schools like to display an “N” or “L” label on their cars, but it is not required.  Photograph by: Times Colonist file

Some driving schools like to display an “N” or “L” label on their cars, but it is not required. Photograph by: Times Colonist file

By Steve Wallace, Times Colonist, December 18th

New driver candidates must display an “L” when practising their driving with a co-pilot.

Driving schools are exempt from this requirement, since they must clearly display the “STUDENT DRIVER” sign at the back of every driving-school vehicle. For this reason, the “L” is deemed to be redundant.

In the past year, my driving-school vehicles have twice been pulled over by the police for not displaying the “L.” In the first case, the constable was very apologetic and confessed to being a 30-year veteran of the RCMP who should have known the regulation of exemption. In the second case, the constable in the integrated traffic force was quite adamant about his relative infallibility concerning the display of the “L.”

The constable insisted the student put the “L” on the back of the car before proceeding. He was equally adamant upon being informed of the exemption by the 30-year veteran instructor and by me. An apology to the student, instructor and school was later forthcoming.

The rules surrounding the use of the “L” for driving schools and their instructors are odd at best and confusing at worst. For this reason, I have a degree of sympathy for any police personnel charged with the responsibility of enforcing the present ambiguous and confusingly contradictory legislation.

Despite the exemption for driving schools, the examiners who administer the provincial driving tests are not so lucky. Students in their charge are not exempt from using the “L” during the practical road test in a driving-school vehicle. When police see a driving-school vehicle sometimes displaying the “L” and sometimes not, it is understandable for them to be questioning the validity of its use.

There is another strange, if not goofy, regulation governing driving instructors and the use of the “L” on private vehicles. We, as instructors, are not allowed by law to instruct in a privately owned vehicle with an “L.”

Anyone else with a valid driving licence who is 25 or older may instruct in such a vehicle. A parent, uncle, aunt, grandparent, neighbour and who-knows-else can teach driving in a private non-driving-school-equipped vehicle. Only a professional driving-school instructor is prevented by law to deliver instruction in such a vehicle. This regulation defies logic. Odd or goofy, it is the rule.

Driving instructors are permitted to give instruction in privately owned vehicles while displaying the “N.”

Some driving schools like to display the “L” and the “N” for additional identification when instructing students. This is their right, and I certainly respect their judgment in this matter. It clearly a corporate decision to be made when circumstances warrant. I would often use the “L” and “N” suspended from the inner back window of my driving-school car in snowy weather, since the “student driver” sign at the back of the driving school vehicle was obscured by snow sticking to the back of the car.

It is not proper for driving schools to simultaneously display the “L” and “N.” It is only legal to use one of these symbols at a time. It is illegal for an “N” driver to be teaching an “L” driver to attain a B.C. licence.

I am not aware of any driving instructors being cited for this indiscretion. This is probably due to the courtesy granted us by authorities, a courtesy that is greatly appreciated by all of us in the industry. The police, more than any others on the road, realize our job, like theirs, is not as easy as it looks, and generally give us a wide berth and much appreciated relative accommodation.

 

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 Canada vice-president of the Driving Schools Association of the Americas, a registered B.C. teacher and a graduate of the University of Manitoba.

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