DriveSmart: Police Powers

Tim Schewe

Tim Schewe

By Tim Schewe

If you are stopped by the police, just what is it that the officer is entitled to do? This is a simple enough question, and one that I’m not sure that many drivers and their passengers have stopped to consider. Now that we have the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, does a driver have to do anything at all?

The police may stop a vehicle being operated on the highway at any time to insure that the driver is properly licenced and that the vehicle is licenced, insured and in proper mechanical repair. In most cases I stopped vehicles because I could see a defect or the driver had committed a driving error. The days of a “routine check” disappeared when the Charter arrived.

Signal to Stop

The driver’s duty is to immediately come to a safe stop when signaled to do so. The operation of the red and blue lights (without the siren) on the patrol car or the hand signals of a uniformed officer are sufficient to require this action. The driver does have some leeway in balancing “immediately” with “safe stop,” but a kilometer or two is not immediate.

Production of Documents

Once stopped, the driver may be requested to produce a driver’s licence, insurance particulars, vehicle licence documents and sometimes written permissions. If required, the driver must let the officer take these documents in hand and examine them. The driver must also state their proper name and address if asked, even if they have produced the required documents.

Duty of Passengers

If the people inside a vehicle are advised by the officer that a breach of the Motor Vehicle Act has occurred in relation to it, they must identify the driver to the officer if requested to do so. The owner of the vehicle has the same duty whether they are in the vehicle or not.

Is the Vehicle Roadworthy?

If the officer chooses to examine the vehicle for mechanical fitness, the driver must move the vehicle as directed and submit to the examination. Depending on the situation, the officer may choose to direct the vehicle to an inspection facility for further examination. If this occurs, the owner or operator is responsible to pay any fees involved.

If the vehicle is unfit, the officer is required to remove any inspection certificate of approval attached to the vehicle.

Alcohol Impairment

During any lawful traffic stop, police may demand a random breath test from the driver. It is no longer a requirement that the officer form an opinion that the driver has alcohol in their body to require a test. This does not yet extend to cases of impaired driving caused by drugs other than alcohol.

Oversize, Overweight & Load Security

Police may stop a vehicle to measure it’s size or weight and examine the load. Weighing the vehicle may take place at the roadside with portable scales or the driver can be directed to go to the nearest public weigh scale.

These are the most common issues when the general public is involved in a traffic stop. Commercial vehicle drivers will be expected to produce log books, trip inspection reports and any permits issued for their vehicles or load.

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement. To comment or learn more, please visit DriveSmartBC.ca

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