Ron Bilinsky (Volunteer Coordinator

Volunteers make roads safer

Speed Watch serves a vital need in the Sooke community

Speed Watch serves a vital need in the community

Britt Santowski

Sooke News Mirror

Yes, it’s true, Sooke has it’s own hired eyes, invasively tracking your every move as you drive along some of our fine in-town roads.

And in the interest of full disclosure, we must report that the information wasn’t leaked to us via Edward Snowden. Rather, it was the volunteer coordinator of the Speed Watch program, Ron Bilinsky, who notified the Sooke News Mirror with this scoop.

Second clarification: the hired eyes aren’t really hired; they are volunteers. And the eyes are electronically connected to a radar.

Really, if you want the plain scoop without any fancy communication’s spin, it must be said that Sooke’s Speed Watch program recently received a new speed-reader board, with built-in radar speed detection and a brighter display board. The upgraded speed-reader board was provided by ICBC, and the older unit was returned to them.

Sooke’s Speed Watch program is a volunteer-run program that works in partnership with Sooke’s Citizens on  Patrol (defined by RCMP Staff Sergeant Steve Wright as “the eyes and ears of the community”). Between the two programs, there are 15 active volunteers. The Speed Watch program is overseen by the RCMP and supported by the Insurance Corporation of BC (ICBC). Sooke has one speed-reader board, and is one of 90 Speed Watch groups throughout BC.

According to Colleen Woodger, the ICBC Road Safety Coordinator for South Vancouver Island, the presence of an active speed-reader board slows drivers down five to six kilometres per hour.

“Speed Watch is essentially an awareness and education program,” said Woodger. “ICBC supports it through providing equipment, training and resources.”

Volunteers are central to the success of the program.

“A program like this would not exist without volunteers,” continued Woodger. “It’s solely driven by volunteers, and we value and appreciate that they care enough about their community that they step up and take action to keep our roads safe and that’s pretty much priceless.”

While the Speed Watch volunteers cannot ticket speeders, they can record the information about the vehicle and provide it to the RCMP. On occasion, too, there may sometimes be a ticketing officer down the road.

Bilinsky notes that it’s also a great tool in providing relevant and useful statistics for the RCMP. In one neighbourhood, a speed watch crew might notice a relatively small number of speeders, while in another, they might see up to 25 per cent of the vehicles going past at unacceptable speeds. This information is passed along to the RCMP, who can use this information in setting up speed traps.

As a volunteer-based organization, Sooke’s Speed Watch is always looking for volunteers.

Generally, said Bilinsky, volunteers come for two reasons. First is the group who want to give to the community. It can be because they are retired, or because they have concerns about people travelling through their own communities and they want to be a part of the solution. Second is the group who has aspirations of a future with the RCMP.

The community in which the Speed Watch group is set up — which is often in school zones, playgrounds and the main streets — tends to be receptive to their presence.

“The public will come and talk to us and say ‘We’re glad that you’re here’,” said Bilinsky, “and it’s usually the people that have kids and are walking.”

Speed Watch is both a weather dependent and a volunteer dependent program, and their presence throughout the Sooke area  varies. Generally, they try to set up once or twice a week, and they are always looking for more volunteers.

“We do vet and screen anyone who does apply,” said Staff Sergeant Steve Wright. Both Wright and Woodger heap praise on the work that Volunteer Coordinator, Ron Bilinsky, has contributed to the program.

“It’s been tremendous having Ron around,” said Wright. “There’s been a great response from volunteers.”

To get involved as a Speed Watch volunteer, you have to be at least 19 years of age, have a valid drivers licence, and be able to pass the RCMP security check. The application process includes calling the RCMP non-emergency number (250-642-5241) and arranging for a screening interview. That will be followed up with the RCMP screening, where an application form is completed for the RCMP criminal record check. No other application forms are required. And the final stage would be receiving locally-provided training and a really nifty safety vest.