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driving concerns

I believe there's an exception to the speed limit if a person is maintaining the flow of traffic. Last week, I was stopped for speeding coming out of a full stop at a traffic signal. It was late rush hour and there were numerous cars ahead of me and behind me. I was in the far left lane of a six lane road. The police officer said I was doing 103 kilometres per hour in an 80 zone. If I'm maintaining the flow of traffic, how can I be singled out and the traffic ahead of me not get stopped?

– Steven, Calgary

If all those other drivers decided to drive off a bridge, would you do it too?

The law gives no exceptions for speeding – everybody else may be doing 23 km/h over the limit, but it doesn't make it legal, police say.

"If you're speeding, you're speeding," says Const. Mike Hagen, with the Calgary Police's traffic education unit. "If you get stopped, you'll get a summons, regardless of how or why."

Nothing trumps the speed limit in Alberta's Traffic Safety Act – if you get caught going even a single km/h over the posted limit, you can be charged. There are no exceptions.

It's "irrelevant" if you're in a group that's travelling at the same speed, or if other drivers are going faster, Hagen said. And being in the left lane or speeding up to pass doesn't make you exempt either.

The law does say slower traffic should keep right, but that still doesn't allow for speeding. So if the law's the law, why didn't those other guys get charged?

Simple, they didn't get caught. A single radar gun can only target one car at a time, and cops have discretion to decide who they'll charge, Hagen says.

"If the limit's 100-km/h, the traffic will flow at 110 on average," Hagen says. "So if someone races by going 120 or 130 we might let everyone else go and get after that bigger fish."

Police don't have the cars and officers to pull over dozens of cars at once. They can't patrol everywhere.

Even if they could pull over huge groups of speeders, massive speed traps would, yes, hurt the flow of traffic and cause massive jams, Hagen says.

"Police have to make judgments on who's presenting the greatest danger and risk," says Don Szarko, director of advocacy with the Alberta Motor Association (AMA).

Speeding may not be legal – but it's common, Szarko says. In AMA surveys, most drivers say going 10 to 15-km/h over the speed limit isn't speeding.

Traffic safety research shows there are fewer crashes if the bulk of cars are driving consistently at around the same speed – even it's above the limit – than if a few faster cars are weaving though traffic, constantly changing lanes and passing other cars, Szarko says.

So, maintaining the flow of traffic is a good idea – but it won't get you out of a speeding ticket.

From reading through the various traffic acts, it seems that there are no exceptions for speeding on the books in any province or territory in Canada.

"If you're speeding and you're not an emergency vehicle, you're subject to being charged – no exceptions," says Staff Sgt. Pierre Chamberland, spokesman for Ontario Provincial Police. "If you're in a collection of people going the same speed, you might be unlucky and be the one who's picked out of the crowd."

So why do drivers seem to think speeding's allowed if you're driving with a fast crowd?

"I guess you'd call it an urban myth," Chamberland says. "Maybe the idea had some truth back in the day before laser radar, when you could say 'how do you know it was me speeding and not that guy in front of me?'"

Modern radar pinpoints your vehicle and leaves no doubt, he says.

"If you're speeding you're running the risk of getting caught and that's all there's to it," he says.

And what about the tip my dad (an Albertan) gave me when I was 14, that you won't get charged if you're going less than 10-km/h over the limit?

"Well, if it's in a school zone then you're a risk and you probably will get charged if you're caught doing 5 or 7 over," Calgary Police's Hagen says. "But, say in an 80 or 100-km/h zone, we wouldn't clog up the courts charging everybody who's going 5-km/h over."

Still, if you're driving one km/h over the limit, the fee is Alberta is $57 and it goes up from there, Hagen says.

"Usually I won't charge for just a few over, but last week I was doing 100 and a young lady passed me going 105 or 106," he says. "I looked over, turned on my lights to tell her to slow down and she gave me this 'what's your problem?' look, so I pulled her over."

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