An unprecedented nineteen drivers in Kootenay National Park got a taste of British Columbias tough driving laws this past May long weekend when their vehicles were seized for excessive speeding, leaving many families roadside waiting for a tow.
From May 19th to May 22nd, Cranbrook-based East Kootenay Traffic Services, a division of the RCMP that regularly patrols Kootenay National Park, pulled over 19 excessive speeders within the park and took away their vehicles, in addition to issuing 310 regular speeding tickets and three other excessive speeding tickets in the valley.
Since the government passed a set of stringent driving laws in B.C., which include having your vehicle seized on the spot if you are driving more than 40 kilometres above the posted speed limit, the Cranbrook unit have been seizing the occasional vehicle in the park, but never this many, said Cpl. Shayne Parker of East Kootenay Traffic Services.
We found the number quite high, he said.
Once a vehicle is seized, the RCMP are responsible for helping to arrange a pick-up for the driver and his or her passengers, Cpl. Parker explained. There is no cell phone coverage through Kootenay National Park, so officers contact dispatch and arrange for a tow truck to pick up the vehicle and its occupants. The speeding driver is responsible for paying to have his or her vehicle towed to the impound lot.
Its not fun being stranded somewhere in the middle of Kootenay National Park, so we make sure thats been taken care of, Cpl. Parker said.
Cpl. Parker said that as an officer it can be difficult to see the stress having a vehicle seized can put on drivers, especially families, but that everyone is given the same treatment, without exception.
We appreciate the inconvenience that it causes a lot of people, but we are pretty consistent that everyone gets treated the same way. The last thing we want is a family of seven roadside, but if mom or dad are speeding, they are treated the same way, he said. There is no discretion. Once they hit a certain speed, thats it.
During the May long weekend, there were two different tow companies operating, with a total of three tow trucks. Because of the number of vehicles being towed during the weekend, some people who were pulled over found themselves waiting for up to four-and-a-half hours for a ride.
Heather Bibby of Invermere was driving home from Calgary on Thursday, May 19th, with her friend, Emma Stevens. Ms. Bibby was pulled over at Vermillion Crossing for excessive speeding, and found herself sitting roadside with three other vehicles also waiting to be towed. Ms. Bibby said she was told she would be picked up by a tow truck that was on its way, but when it arrived, there was only room for the three other vehicles. The women sat waiting for another tow truck, which didnt arrive until more than two hours later.
Ms. Stevens, who was taking morphine for back problems, had just enough medication to last for the drive home, and found herself in increasing pain. Ms. Bibby said she pleaded with the officer who had ticketed them to find another ride for them, or to allow her to drive herself to cell phone range or to the impound lot so she could find Emma relief from her pain.
He offered Emma an extra-strength Tylenol and said we could try to hitch a ride back if we wanted, Ms. Bibby said.
Ms. Bibby said she thinks her speeding ticket was fair, but waiting for four-and-a-half hours for a ride was not.
I was speeding, and yes, I deserve a speeding ticket, she said. But as far as being stuck in the park with no cell reception, no food, no water, for that long … yeah, I think that was really brutal.
I would have paid the ticket and learned my lesson galore by paying that.
She added that were there cell reception, she could have phoned someone for a ride, or had her vehicle towed through her insurance, saving herself a large amount of money, on top of her $368 ticket.
Cpl. Parker said Ms. Bibbys experience was an unfortunate exception to what normally happens.
That was one that stood out and was definitely discussed in our office. If we would have known the delay would have been that long, we would have tried to make arrangements sooner, he said. Thats an extreme. We definitely dont want to see that. Normally we are within one hour of having people picked up by a tow.
The posted speed limit in Kooteany National Park is 90 kilometres per hour, dropping down to 60, 70, and 80 in places, but the majority of drivers dont obey that limit, Cpl. Parker said.
There seems to be a very common race through the park to get to the front of the pack, he said. The park is a beautiful drive. Its a great highway and well-maintained. People need to hit the cruise control or something.
Although tough, the new laws are effective, Cpl. Parker said. As much as its a major, major inconvenience, I believe a lot of times the money end of things is not a deterrent. As much as it [seizing vehicles] causes major problems, its going to be effective. Its not going away anytime soon.