I was tailgating a minivan because the driver was driving too slow and I wanted to tell him to go faster. Instead he slowed down to like 40 km/h. I signalled to move into the other lane to try to pass him, but then he veered sharply into the lane before I could to block me. The next day I got a call from someone I know in the police department (I work in a nursing home and I have to call police when residents escape). The officer said somebody had called and reported that I was driving dangerously and erratically. I told the officer that I wasn't and that the other driver was driving aggressively. That was that. But what would have happened if police didn't know me? Could I get a ticket based on the word of another driver? What happens when somebody reports a driver?— Angie, Calgary
If somebody tattles on your tailgating — or any other dangerous driving — you might get a ticket. But the teller would have to convince a judge that you're guilty, police say.
"We get situations where people want to report another driver and, quite simply, we do an investigation," says Calgary Police Traffic Sgt. Paul Stacey. "If we have enough evidence and we feel the complainant can identify that person in court than we'll lay charges."
If you're tailgating in Alberta, you could be charged with following too closely under section 18 of the Use of Highway and Rules of the Road Regulations of the Traffic Safety Act. That's a $172 fine and 4 demerits.
The law doesn't say how far you have to be from the car in front of you. It says you can't be any closer than is "reasonable and prudent" for the speed, traffic volume and road conditions.
"It's subjective — in slow, bumper-to-bumper traffic you might be a car length or less away from the car in front of you and that's okay under the circumstances."
You could also be charged with dangerous operation of a vehicle under section 249 of the Criminal Code of Canada.
If you do get charged because of a complaint from another driver or a pedestrian, it could end up as a case of "he said, she said," police say.
"It's up to the judge to decide whose story to believe," Stacey says.
We also checked with Vancouver Police, Toronto Police and the Sûreté du Québec. They all say calls about dangerous drivers are taken seriously — but they don't always result in charges.
"If a person calls and reports erratic driving and it's just happened, we'll try to pull over the vehicle," says SQ Lt. Guy Lapointe. "If someone's really dangerous on the road, we'll get multiple complaints."
Lapointe says Quebec police can lay charges either if they see the bad driving themselves or if a witness gives a written statement.
"If someone alleged you had a specific behaviour on the road, we'll take the written statement — we won't just send you a ticket in the mail," Lapointe says. "A lot of people abuse the system — it's not something that we do lightly."
The witness would have to identify you as the driver in court.
"We don't automatically issue a ticket, we look at both sides of the story," LaPoint says. "Let's say you had plane tickets proving you couldn't be there at that time, or maybe you'd say 'but it was my wife driving my car.'"
In Quebec, following too closely is a $168 fine with fees and two demerits. In Ontario, it's four demerits and a fine between $60 and $500. In B.C. it's $110.
"If someone witnesses serious driving danger, we ask that you record the licence plate number, pull over to a safe location if you don't have hands-free, and call 911," says Vancouver Police spokesman Sgt. Randy Fincham. "If it's tailgating or driving aggressively or road rage, we'd probably give a warning — the primary purpose is to educate drivers about the behaviour."
In your case, police would tell you that tailgating isn't the way to tell another driver that you want them to go faster.
"Speed limits are posted for ideal road conditions and it's not necessarily your job to educate another driver on how they should be driving," Fincham says, "If need be, drive around them."
In your example, both of you were driving dangerously and breaking the law — and you're both lucky nobody got hurt or killed, says Toronto Police.
"In the end, they're both wrong — if one complains, the officer could turn around and charge the other individual," says Toronto Police Traffic Services Const. Clint Stibbe.
For example, if you had to hit your brakes when that other driver veered in front of you, he could be charged with an improper lane change, Stibbe says.
"Whenever you drive a car, you need to be civil with everyone on the road," Stibbe says. "Patience is something we all lack and we overreact — and you could get yourself or somebody else killed."
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