Vol. 80, No. 3Cover stories

Male police officer speaking to the female driver of a car.

Spotting speeders and smartphones

Integrated traffic team makes B.C. roads safer

Cst. Steve Shaw, a member of the Lower Mainland District Integrated Road Safety Unit, pulls over a Burnaby, B.C., motorist. She was fined for distracted driving. Credit: Martine Chénier, RCMP


Spend a few days on the highways of British Columbia's Lower Mainland and you'll quickly learn a few things: they're always busy, often jammed and home base for a specialized team of traffic enforcement officers.

The region's roads carry speeders and distracted and impaired drivers just to name a few. And then there are motorists who simply won't slow down to give police some room when they need to get out of their vehicle.

One day in early March, Cst. Steve Shaw pulled over a speeding Acura MDX on the Trans-Canada Highway in Burnaby. Shaw got out of his unmarked Chevrolet Tahoe and approached the driver's side of the Acura as cars on the highway whizzed by. Granted, because the artery was so congested, it would have been difficult and probably unsafe for vehicles to completely pull over. But none reduced their speed as required by law.

"I'm used to it," says Shaw, a member of the Metro Vancouver Transit Police who joined the RCMP's Langley-based Lower Mainland District (LMD) Integrated Road Safety Unit (IRSU) in January. "I just wait for the right and safe time."

Traffic teamwork

The provincially funded IRSU consists of more than 40 traffic enforcement officers from seven different police departments on the Lower Mainland — Abbotsford, Delta, Vancouver, Port Moody, New Westminster, West Vancouver and Transit Police — plus the RCMP.

"We're dedicated to making our roads safer. We've been assigned to deliver, throughout the region, a specific service the government wants to target — traffic safety," says Sgt. Patrick Davies, operations non-commissioned officer of LMD IRSU.

The integrated unit means officers can work in multiple municipalities without worrying about jurisdictional issues.

"This diversity makes us more effective as best practices are adapted from a variety of sources," says Insp. Mark Baxter, LMD IRSU's line officer. "Also, wherever LMD IRSU deploys [its officers], by default we have good, established contacts with the police of jurisdiction."

The roads and highways patrolled by police in B.C.'s Lower Mainland have ballooned over the decades to cope with the region's expanding population.

It's a development that RCMP veteran Cst. Kevin Bailey has witnessed first-hand.

"The behaviour of traffic has changed and everyone is in a rush," Bailey says, one March day before the start of his shift. "Traffic is like water, it looks for the shortest and fastest route. And with the city lifestyle, people feel they only have so much time and are constantly under the gun to get things done."

At the bottom of Burnaby's Royal Oak Avenue near an exit to Deer Lake Park, drivers' need for speed was on full display. Three IRSU members aimed their laser detectors at oncoming motorists and easily found speeders — some of whom feel they don't deserve a ticket.

"Sometimes it seems the drivers, who we know are speeding, don't want to accept accountability for their actions," says RCMP Cst. Sarah Brown.

Distracted drivers

Along with drivers with lead feet, smartphones are a perennial problem.

According to the RCMP, an average of 78 people die in motor vehicle collisions each year in B.C. solely because the driver was distracted or not paying attention. That's why the IRSU targets distracted drivers.

And the method to catch them sometimes involves simple legwork.

At the corner of Kingsway and Willingdon in Burnaby, three IRSU members walked between lanes of traffic looking for distracted drivers, who are easily recognizable with their heads down looking at their phones.

Their efforts also didn't go unnoticed by the public. "Nice to see you here," says one passerby to Brown as he left the grocery store. "I walk by here all the time, there's lots of accidents."

One driver, when asked to pull into a nearby parking lot for reading her phone — said she was just looking at a map. She will accumulate driver points, which could affect her insurance costs, and she will be given a fine of at least $368. And while getting dinged with a ticket may seem upsetting, most drivers seem to accept their fate.

"Most people are not angry with us, they're angry with themselves," says Cst. Marko Duran, one of the three-member team patrolling the area. "Also, 80 per cent of these folks are good people who just made a bad decision."

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