This was a question that I asked myself more frequently as my time in traffic enforcement with the RCMP grew longer. Everyone wants to do their job well, and mine was to encourage the motoring public to conform to the law in the hope that doing so would minimize the number of collisions in my patrol area. If I was successful, no one would be hurt, our insurance rates would fall and I wouldn’t have to write so many tickets.
Is it possible for the average traffic cop to change a driver’s attitude?
The primary tools available to all traffic enforcement personnel are warnings and tickets. How does one choose which is the most appropriate for the situation? Deciding on an appropriate balance and delivering it to the violator in the manner that does the most good was something that I always found to be difficult. In the face of more and more verbal abuse at the roadside it would have been simple just to reach for the ticket book and teach that driver a lesson.
However, if a warning was what I had in mind when I stopped them, shouldn’t I carry through with that thought? There were many times when I stuck to my original decision and wrote the warning. Most angry drivers settled down when they realized what they were getting, but a few carried on with such venom that I would find myself sitting at the roadside after they had driven away trying to lower my own blood pressure. Occasionally I would even go back to the office and do paperwork for a while because I knew that if I didn’t I would probably take it out on the next violator I encountered.
Tickets are easy to write. I often thought that if I wrote one for every violation I saw, I would never travel more than a few kilometres from the office each shift. Everyone thinks that I had a quota to fill but in reality, I was only subject to a quota once in my service. If I wrote more than 30% of my charges for speeding I could expect to sit down for a chat with my supervisor and be reminded that there were many other types of violation out there that were just as important to deal with. Otherwise, all that I had to show was that I was doing an honest day’s work.
Did tickets change a driver’s attitude? If they are adult in their outlook, I would say yes. The driver would realize that they were ticketed for making an error or deliberately disobeying the rules and not let it happen again. If they were a child, the problem would be mine, not theirs. There might be a slim possibility that they would make a connection between their behaviour and the ticket. If they didn’t care at all, my efforts would be wasted.
Many officers step beyond the basics of the job and embrace the education component of Road Safety Strategy 2025. They take part in many different programs within their community to reach out to drivers before they make mistakes. Some time and effort here can pay dividends later on by helping receptive drivers make the right choices during their driving careers.
As you might guess, I always enjoyed this because it gave me a chance at a positive contact with people. I can’t recall a single instance of the verbal abuse that I suffered at the roadside occurring in these venues.
Finally, how do you measure what didn’t happen? How do you know if you were able to make a difference in someone’s life?
There were few times in my service where I learned after the fact that my interventions had made a difference. One of my co-workers was investigating a two vehicle collision when one of the drivers involved commented to him that if I hadn’t written him a ticket for not wearing his seatbelt the previous week he wouldn’t have been wearing it here either. He realized that he had avoided injury by wearing the seatbelt and I’m sure that this took a lot of the sting out of my ticket.
I’m still keeping the faith by writing on road safety instead of using a ticket book. To borrow a phrase from a friend who has suffered much and still tries to educate others about drinking and driving: “Together we can make a difference!”
Constable Tim Schewe (Retired)
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