"Cpl. Chung, I have two questions for you today.
Q1: Are police officers exempt from the ban on cellphone use while driving? Reason: I have witnessed, on a number of occasions, police officers driving while on their cellphones AND driving while looking down at their computer. (Not safe ONE BIT).
Q2: Are police officers granted special privilege which allows them to speed through school zones during school hours? Reason: I live two houses down from an elementary school located on a BUSY street. I don't have enough fingers and toes to count the number of times in one week I witness police cars whip past my home (and the school) doing well beyond the speed limit and without lights or sirens."
Jenn Boyd Port Coquitlam
Cpl. J Jenn, the answers to both of your questions are short - but I'd like to put them in context so my responses will be a bit long. But bear with me because I have some advice at the end that I hope you find useful.
The short answer to your first question is yes, police officers (as well as other first responders like paramedics and firefighters) are exempt from the ban on using electronic devices while operating a motor vehicle.
Now for the context. The Motor Vehicle Act says the exemption of the Use of Electronic Device law applies if a police officer is using the device "while carrying out their powers, duties or functions."
Police officers have relied on radios (an electronic device) for a long time now but, as you point out Jenn, smart phones and in-car computers are also basic equipment in police cars and the basic duties of a police officer these days are heavily reliant on electronic devices.
To do police work effectively, we need access to the most current information. At times, we need to find the shortest route to an emergency call and a quick glance at a computer for the GPS function is invaluable. I know that our IT department is exploring some futuristic high tech devices. However, there is a technological gap at the moment between what we have and what we want. Furthermore, any such device will have to be tested extensively before being used.
For the time being, our management team is encouraging everyone to only look at their computer when it is safe to do so. As a point of interest, anyone calling 911 is also exempt from the ban.
The exemption doesn't mean that first responders are any better at balancing the demands of driving with the distractions of electronic devices than other drivers.
It just means that, in some circumstances, the risk of a cop using a cellphone or a radio or a GPS while driving to a call may be less than the risk of that same cop showing up at a scene without vital information or showing up at the wrong address or showing up too late.
That said, we have policy in place to direct our employees not to talk on hand-held devices or text when driving because safety (including the safety of the public and our employees) is extremely important to us.
My colleagues and I are all aware that the public expects, and deserves, to be served by police officers who uphold strong ethics and demonstrate sound judgment - which is a fancy way of saying, policy notwithstanding, most of us avoid using the MVA exemption unless it is necessary because we are aware that, even when it is necessary, it doesn't necessarily send a good message.
The fact is, as anyone who has been behind the wheel of a vehicle knows, driving is a complex task and we all have to focus on the road to keep ourselves and others safe.
Unfortunately, there are many things in the car that could interfere with our concentration. These distractions come in many different ways and forms, from electronic devices to food and beverages to pets, children and friends.
Even grooming and fashion can be distractions; I once investigated a collision in which the driver took her eyes off the road for a split second to adjust her shoes. No matter what takes our eyes off the road or pulls our attention from driving, it doesn't take long before something bad happens.
I am sure you (along with many citizens) have noticed Coquitlam Mounties are ramping up distracted driving enforcement. Why are we doing it? A few years ago, collision statistics started showing a strong correlation between serious crashes and the
use of electronic devices, to the point where distraction was a contributing factor in almost half of the crashes with fatalities or serious injuries in the Lower Mainland. Also, research has shown that drivers fail to process nearly 50 per cent of the information from their driving environment when they are using some type of electronic communication device.
Jenn, the answer to your second question is a straightforward no - with a caveat. Police have to obey the speed limit in all school (and playground) zones. That being said, there are situations in which we can lawfully drive beyond the area's speed limit when responding to an emergency call:
. By using our emergency lights and sirens in a school or playground zone.
. By using only our emergency lights in places other than a school or playground zone.
. Without using any emergency equipment in places other than a school or playground zone.
I appreciate both of your questions and want to assure you you're not the only one wondering about these issues. A few months ago I got a tweet from a father whose young daughter had spotted one of my colleagues on the phone while driving and asked her dad about it. His tweet included the time of day and the car number. I responded to the tweet and tracked down the colleague who was driving the car to let him know. I suppose that's a good sign that our distracted driving message is getting through, but I expect the questions will keep coming.
Now, I promised you some useful advice. If, after reading my responses, you believe you're witnessing a police officer using an electronic device inappropriately or unnecessarily violating school zone speed limits, please report the incident to us. Does that sound like a strange request? Think about it this way: my colleagues and I have a lot of self-directed time in a shift. We don't have partners like the cops on TV and, for now anyway, we don't have cameras in our cars to record our every word and deed. So feedback from the public is the only way we can find out what we're doing well and what needs work.
There are two ways to give us some feedback:
1. To initiate a complaint against a member of the Coquitlam RCMP, call the nonemergency reporting line at 604-945-1550 or mail the details to: Coquitlam RCMP Professional Standards Unit, 2986 Guildford Way, Coquitlam, BC, V3B 7Y5 (we do not yet accept complaints online or via e-mail).
2. Visit our website (http: // coquitlam.rcmp-grc.gc.ca), click "Enter," then click "Log in and speak up!" to fill out our online community survey. It's live until Jan. 7 and, if you live, work, play or go to school in our jurisdiction, we need your feedback to help us assess our performance for 2012 and plan our projects and initiatives for 2013.
We always strive to deliver the best police service to everyone in Anmore, Belcarra, Coquitlam and Port Coquitlam. Our management team needs to know when conscientious citizens like you think we can do better. Thank you for bringing this to our attention.
. Cpl. Jamie Chung is the media relations officer for the Coquitlam RCMP. Readers can submit questions to editorial@ thenownews.com. The contents of this column are based on Cpl. Chung's professional opinion, training and experience and are not intended to reflect official RCMP policy or other legislation.