Steve Jaques - Drivin

By Christel Martin

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"Any time I can find something on a vehicle that is truly dangerous, in other words that meets the criteria to condemn that vehicle, take if off the road, I believe that I may just have saved a life - the person who was driving the vehicle, their passengers or somebody else," says Steve.

While he appreciates those donations to Red Nose that raise money for kids' amateur sport, "the biggest thing is to get the potential catastrophe off the road."

Quite a switch from a 16-year-old Steve who, within months of receiving his learners' permit, practically demolished his father's 1959 Chrysler. At 18, his life revolved around "motorcycles, beer and burgers." Marriage slowed him down, but dirt bike racing on his Yamaha 360 MX and backyard mechanics took up any slack.

He taught himself auto repairs on his first car, a Morris Oxford - "something you had trouble getting into trouble with," says Steve, citing his parents' criteria. That experience lead to a job at Dominion (Vancouver) Motors, where he completed his apprenticeship in automotive mechanics. His boss got used to seeing Steve hobble in on crutches after a weekend of dirt racing with "torn ligaments; never a broken bone."

Steve began his career as an MVI at the Burnaby testing station in 1982. In 1983, a promotion took him to Smithers and a territory spanning from the Queen Charlottes to Endaco and Kitimat to the Yukon border, driving an average of 40,000 miles/year.

As peace officers, MVIs have the authority and duty to pull over any vehicle they believe is unsafe. Peace officers do not deal with criminal code infractions, such as drunk driving. However, says Steve, "I have pulled vehicles over for suspected mechanical problems, like a car running around with no headlights on at night - thought maybe he'd burnt out his headlights or had an electrical problem only to find out that he was impaired. Called the RCMP, they dealt with him."

When he's not dealing with vehicles on the road that are operating illegally, such as improperly secured loads, improper licensing and mechanically defective vehicles, Steve inspects school buses to make sure they meet all mechanical standards and have the proper licences and permits. He also supervises the vehicle inspection program now performed by government-certified private shops, and investigates accidents and fatalities involving heavy vehicles, buses and taxis.

"We do the mechanical [investigations] for the RCMP - the coroner makes use of our reports," says Steve. "I've done over 200 fatal investigations - you start to realize how stupid and senseless the death and maiming is. In so many cases, it's totally avoidable. Because someone didn't know what they were doing and they put the brakes in backwards and fouled up the grease seals, a kid loses control, flips the car, and ends up killing his passenger. Or someone passes out because of carbon monoxide poisoning because the car had a terrible exhaust system and holes in the floor. You just look at this stuff and you know, these people didn't need to die."

Since 1990, Steve has preached safety to central Vancouver Island drivers. Some, while unhappy at losing their automobiles and despite hefty fines, have thanked him for explaining how hazardous their vehicles really were.

Steve still drives 40,000 miles/year, but now it's half work, half play. After he parks the government's Tahoe, he drives a specially modified pickup carrying his dwarf car to racetracks in Victoria, Campbell River, and Vernon.

"In Vernon, we were running 140 mph on a half-mile track - I did it once. I have no intention of doing it again."

Dwarf cars are very small and light with roll cages and bodies designed to withstand crashes at 80-90 mph. "You wouldn't survive at 140," he says.

Steve joined the Vancouver Island Dwarf Car Club in 1994 and sits on the executive as secretary.

These days he sits uneasily. Two seasons ago, his dwarf car ricocheted off a two-car crash, became airborne and with only four inches of ground clearance, "came down absolutely flat on the frame on the pavement; A perfect one-point landing," says Steve, grimacing and leaning forward. "If I don't finish, I don't get the points [for himself and his club]. So, I finished" - with a broken tailbone.

Despite his first-ever break, Steve says racing is safe compared to driving on public roads. "We have safety cages, helmets, fire suits, neck braces, collars, emergency crews sitting at each end of the track. I have three fire extinguishers in my toolbox [and one] in the car. Our cars are designed for and expected to crash on a regular basis because if you're racing, you're on the ragged edge of losing control - or you're not racing; Adrenaline is a perfectly legal drug. You want to get high, do it on a racetrack where it's safe for everybody."

For more information about Dwarf Car racing, contact:

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