Clearing car crashes faster could backfire: officer

Drivers grumble when crashes cause major delays on Sooke Road or the Malahat, but one veteran traffic officer says changes to the Motor Vehicle Act that would allow the wreckage to be cleared faster could leave traffic investigators without key information to prevent similar incidents.

A resolution before the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Vancouver proposes increasing the accident-damage limit to $10,000 so that police do not have to complete an MV6020 investigation form for a minor accident. Currently, any crash with damage over $1,000 requires the attending officers to conduct an accident investigation.

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Staff Sgt. Ron Cronk, who heads the Capital Regional District’s Integrated Road Safety Unit and is the former head of the Victoria Police traffic section, said information collected through the MV6020 form is key to taking a more scientific and evidence-based approach to traffic enforcement.

The MV6020 forms are sent to ICBC, which uses the data to determine problem intersections or dangerous driving habits.

Cronk said eliminating investigations for crashes under $10,000 in damage would create “a huge data gap.”

“It’s more than keeping count of how many crashes we had last month — it’s about what factors were at play and how can we prevent it from happening again,” he said.

Cronk said minor crashes sometimes turn into criminal investigations, so it’s important for traffic analysts to collect all the evidence before cars are moved from the scene.

“We don’t want to be criticized for conducting a negligent investigation just because we had to get the cars off the road,” he said.

The RCMP’s Island district traffic section investigates crashes involving serious injury or death, so any changes to the accident damage limit would likely have little impact on the section’s crash analysts, said Cpl. Brad Robinson.

“Ninety-nine per cent of [injury or fatal crashes] are well over the $1,000 threshold anyhow, so it’s not going to affect our work,” Robinson said.

The resolution calls on the province to give the authority to firefighters to complete crash investigations and allow maintenance contractors to remove vehicles in minor crashes.

In Nanaimo, minor crashes are handled by the Nanaimo Fire Department, said Chief Karen Fry.

The RCMP is only called when a driver has been injured or killed, or the level of damage is very serious, she said.

“Most of the time, we provide information [to the driver] on filing a report with ICBC and we call a tow truck to clear the scene,” Fry said.

Fry said this helps clear the accident more quickly and “frees up the resources of the police to deal with other more pertinent calls.”

Fry said the fire department is called to every car crash to deal with medical aid and possible fuel spills, so it’s not a major tax on resources.

Chris Foord, vice-chairman of the capital region’s Traffic Safety Commission, said he’s in favour of testing changes to gauge the impact on police departments and motorists.

“We need to try and do everything we can to speed up road openings after crashes,” Foord said.

Cronk said crash-investigation teams are able to complete investigations much quicker than in the past, thanks to enhanced technology such as crash-scene mapping devices.

“The police are aware they’re holding up traffic at certain times of day and they want to expedite the moving of the car,” Cronk said.

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