Michael Mulligan: Give police guidance on traffic investigations

When crashes occur on major highways, including the Malahat, transportation disruptions can be significant. At peak times, thousands of vehicles are being drivern on major highways and bridges every hour.

Some of the delay caused by crashes is inevitable: It takes time for emergency vehicles to arrive and for medical assistance to be provided.

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There is, however, a public-policy decision to be made concerning the length of time major highways should be closed in order to facilitate crash investigations once all necessary medical assistance has been provided.

Currently in British Columbia, the police are provided little guidance with respect to what investigative steps should be undertaken.

There is also no guidance with respect to how the desirability of collecting evidence related to a crash should be weighed against the impact of stopping thousands of people.

The persons or families of people involved in a crash would typically want every conceivable investigative option to be pursued so as to assist in assigning civil responsibility or securing a conviction in the event of a criminal charge.

As a result, the police are unlikely to be subject to criticism for undertaking a thorough investigation, except for the transient, and inappropriate, jeering from disgruntled motorists who have been stopped for long periods. A judge in an individual case might be called upon to assess whether there is sufficient evidence to establishe that a driver was negligent or committed an offence.

The courts do not, however, direct the police as to how an investigation should be conducted, how much and what evidence should be collected or what test should be performed.

When highways or bridges are closed for extended periods, the impacts can be significant. Last year, a woman went into labour waiting for the Malahat to be reopened following a crash.

Particularly in bad weather, further crashes can result from the stopped traffic or as a result of efforts to detour.

The provincial government should provide legislative guidance to the police with respect to how long traffic should be stopped in order to conduct crash investigations.

Such guidance would permit a balancing of interests between the desire to gather evidence, so as to assign blame as between the people involved in a crash, and the public interest in keeping highways open.

Legislative guidelines would provide police officers with direction as to what it expected of them so that they are not subject to criticism for deciding between the individual and public interests involved.

It might also cut down on the jeering.

Michael Mulligan is a Victoria lawyer.

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