Ottawa police have a couple of tickets they’d like to hand to a woman seen texting at the wheel in a viral video, but they figure that issuing the tickets is a long shot.
Sgt. Mark Gatien of the traffic enforcement unit said the video posted by Erik Hanna — and seen more than 1.4 million times and counting rapidly on Facebook — allowed investigators to track the vehicle’s licence plate to an address in Newfoundland.
“The evidence in the video is sufficient to lay two separate charges,” he said: One for using a cellphone while driving, and one for an unsafe lane change where the woman cut off the motorcyclist.
Gatien said he will probably call the Newfoundland phone number and ask who was driving the SUV and what her cellphone number is. But whoever answers his call “could very well say, ‘Yeah, right,’ and hang up on me, and there’s nothing I could do about it.
“If she has watched the news or read the papers and wants to turn herself in, come and see us. We’ll give her two tickets and she will be on her way.”
She would also get the tickets if police happen to find her. Otherwise, once she leaves Ontario, “when she’s gone, she’s gone.”
What about Erik Hanna, who confronted the woman?
Gatien: “We’re not picking on the motorcyclist. He’s trying to do what he thinks is right. Unfortunately we would prefer that he play it safe and not go to that extreme.”
As well, Hanna could have caused an escalation by following the woman and trying to bring her to the police station, Gatien said.
“So she was weaving in and out (between) cars to get away and he was following her. She could call in and say, ‘I’ve got a crazy guy on a motorcycle following me’.”
“It builds up and emotion gets involved,” and the woman may have been frightened as well.
People writing comments on the Citizen’s original article were arguing about whether a motorcyclist can legally ride between two lanes, known as lane-splitting. What about it?
“No, you cannot.”
It falls under several possible offences in Ontario, he said: failing to share a lane, passing unsafely, unsafe movement, and perhaps others.
“Can’t do it.”
The motorcyclist rapped on the SUV window and confronted the driver. Good or bad idea?
“He’s awfully lucky that it was a very calm female,” Gatien said. “We’ve had cases where somebody has done that, tried to take the law into their own hands, and the (other) guy opens the door, beats the crap out of them and drives off because he realizes he is being videotaped.
“We don’t want to promote this … You’re getting into a pickle where you’re going to be in a road rage incident … Chances are they won’t but we don’t want you to be the one in 100” who is hurt.
What's your view on the motorcyclist rapping on the SUV window and confronting the driver on her cell phone?
— Ottawa Citizen (@OttawaCitizen) August 30, 2016
When should someone call police to report a traffic problem?
“For impaireds, for sure,” he said. “And if you want to follow what you suspect to be an impaired driver, follow at a safe distance.” If the other driver notices and becomes in any way aggressive, “then back off. Just give us the last known location.
“But if everyone were to call in everybody they saw on a cellphone, we would be so overwhelmed, we wouldn’t be able to manage it.”
Another obstacle: If you tell police that you saw a driver with a cellphone and give them the car’s licence number, that isn’t enough. “We cannot go to court with just that information.”
Police can find the car, knock on the owner’s door and ask who was driving, but the car owner doesn’t have to co-operate, he said.
“The only time we can lay a charge in those cases is if we see it (the offence) ourselves.”
Can you stop cellphone use?
“The reality is that it will never stop,” he said. Despite hundreds of expensive tickets every month ($495 plus three demerit points), “they’re doing it no matter what. They cannot disconnect from technology.”
“All of my guys have been instructed: if you see a cellphone you will not give them a warning. You will give them a ticket. We’re doing our best, but there are only so many police officers, and how many drivers are there?”
Source: Ottawa Citizen