‘The law doesn’t even require the supervisor to be sober’: Critics say ‘L’ co-pilots must be accountable

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There are calls for changes to B.C.’s driving laws after a recent traffic stop by the Vancouver Police Department highlighted the lack of penalties for adults tasked with supervising ‘L’ licence holders.

On Mar. 6, VPD traffic Sgt. Mark Christensen shared an incident on social media involving a learner’s licence holder and supervisor allegedly stopped for going 63 km/h over the speed limit on Granville Street.

“Something needs to change!” Christensen tweeted.

“This Learner & supervisor were stopped for excessive speeding 113 in 50 on Granville St today! Learner issued excessive speeding ticket and vehicle impounded but nothing happens to the supervisor!”

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Christensen clarified that the learner was not a young driver – and the supervisor was not a parent or employed by a driving school.

 “All were well past their teen years!,” a subsequent tweet stated.

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Vancouver police told Global News they don’t track data for these kinds of incidents but do see cases from time to time.

In an email, Sgt. Steve Addison said he suspects the traffic officer’s frustration results from “not being able to hold the supervisor accountable for that person’s failure to properly instruct the learner how to safely and responsibly operate a motor vehicle.”

“No accountability for the supervisor is an oversight by the people that actually have purview over the legislation,” Wallace Driving School CEO Steve Wallace told Global News.

Under the learner’s driving restrictions of ICBC’s graduated licensing program, a qualified supervisor is defined as someone age 25 or older with a valid Class 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 licence, and who must sit beside the ‘L’ driver in the front passenger seat.

Critics say there are no real obligations for supervisors – or incentives for them to actually supervise.

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Even in crash situations, Wallace said the driver is the only one held accountable, and he believes that has to change.

“The people who are serving as co-pilots have to have some responsibility,” said Wallace.

“What if a co-pilot told someone to do something that was totally illegal? Should they be exonerated for that? I don’t think so.”

Vancouver criminal lawyer Kyla Lee would like to see legislation that states the supervisor must ensure the driver does not exceed the speed limit, remains sober, stops at stop signs, and doesn’t use their phone.

Read more: ICBC backlog means teen’s ‘L’ licence may expire before he can take ‘N’ road test

“Right now, the law doesn’t even require the supervisor to be sober,” said Lee.

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Lee also believes it would be easy for the government to amend the Motor Vehicle Act to create an offence for supervisors who don’t exercise reasonable care and judgement while supervising.

“It serves the public safety to have supervisors have more of an obligation, and to be more accountable for what they’re doing when they’re in the car with a driver who is defying the law,” Lee told Global News.

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B.C.’s Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General said his ministry will be looking into the supervisor penalty gap to see if a legislative or regulatory change is required – and to learn how other provinces deal with similar situations when they arise.

“It’s obviously quite concerning,” Mike Farnworth told Global News.

“I mean the whole idea of having a supervisor in the car with an L driver is to make sure that they are obeying the rules of the road.”

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© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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