Ottawa discourages citizen policing after texting-and-driving video incident

A woman captured on video texting while driving an SUV down an Ottawa street — then nearly clipping a motorcyclist while changing lanes — likely won't be charged because of limited resources, according to Ottawa police.

'We prefer that he would have stopped,' officer says after motorcyclist records, follows driver

Motorcyclist follows texting driver (courtesy Erik Hanna)

5 years ago
Motorcyclist Erik Hanna says he was nearly clipped by an SUV on a west Ottawa street on Friday shortly after capturing the driver texting and driving on a helmet camera. 5:33

Motorcyclist Erik Hanna says he was nearly clipped by an SUV on a west Ottawa street on Friday shortly after capturing the driver texting and driving on video — but police say the driver likely won't be charged because of limited resources.

Finding and identifying the woman driving the SUV would be challenging, because the vehicle had a Newfoundland and Labrador licence plate and could be far outside Ontario's borders, police said.

Sgt. Mark Gatien, of the Ottawa police traffic enforcement unit, said there is enough evidence from the video to charge the woman with texting while driving and improper lane change — but the motorcyclist could also face charges for manoeuvring between two lanes to knock on the woman's window as she used her phone behind the wheel.

Gatien discouraged attempts at citizen policing that could lead to dangerous confrontations, especially in traffic.

"I would caution people not to do this in the sense that he committed a couple of offences himself by splitting the lane going down the middle," Gatien said. "I can't prove it but he might have been speeding. In the video, by his own admission, [he] follows this lady after the fact by a number of kilometres which could have put her a bit unnervy.

"We prefer that he would have stopped."

'No apology'

Hanna, 25, told CBC News he decided to take action after seeing the woman texting behind the wheel at a stop light.

Erik Hanna, 25, has been riding a motorcycle for eight years. (Facebook)
"The light actually turned green and she stayed stopped. A couple cars honked, we went around — I chose to go around her," he said. "I saw her just staring down at her cellphone."

At the next stop light, he started recording from a camera on his helmet. He is seen straddling two lanes as he knocks on the woman's window. She looks up from her phone, locks the door, then looks back down at her phone.

Hanna is seen passing her, and said he was prepared to move on when the SUV made a close pass in front of him. So he followed the SUV and approached the driver's window a second time when the SUV pulled over.

"I got it all on camera," he tells her in the video. "You on the phone, you cutting me off, everything. It's all recording right now. I'm going to the police. I'll follow you wherever you want to go. All right? Let's go."

Her response is inaudible but Hanna told CBC News she told him, "'Don't you have something better to do? What do you think you're doing?' That's the only responses I got from her. No apology. No nothing."

He continued to follow her but eventually gave up and took the footage to police.

Dangerous drivers 'not uncommon'

Hanna said dangerous drivers are "not uncommon."

"A lot of people don't give us the amount of space we need because we're a smaller vehicle, and it sometimes puts us closer to cars than we would like to be," he said. "At the same time, that's why we do notice more."

Sgt. Mark Gatien says police are 'doing the absolute best that we can' to enforce texting and driving laws. (CBC)

He added that he'll leave the case with police now that he's handed over the video. He also posted the video online to help identify the driver and raise awareness about dangerous driving — to a massive response.

Gatien said if there is video or photographic evidence of texting behind the wheel, along with a licence plate number, there's a higher likelihood police would pursue charges. He said Hanna's case will be investigated and that charges will be laid, if possible.

But he added that if members of the public called police every time they saw someone texting and driving, overwhelmed officers likely wouldn't have time to investigate. 

"We just can't handle that volume of calls," he said. "We have only so many officers. We're doing the absolute best that we can with the officers. I can guarantee you that my traffic officers, when they see someone on a cellphone, they will be charged — no warning."

Gatien said he supports Quebec's request that the federal government examine the possibility of criminalizing the use of cellphones while driving.