All drivers know that sinking feeling. It’s when you see those red and blue flashing lights in your rear-view mirror, a slip under the windshield wiper or mail with a return address from your city government. It’s a traffic ticket and it’s going to cost you.
Or is it?
Most people take their lumps and pay their fines regardless of whether they believe they’ve been wrongly accused. The prospect of confronting your accuser, in a court of law, and fighting back against the charges seem too daunting for many. But you shouldn’t be intimated. If you feel falsely accused, no one will fault you for defending your reputation. Not to mention avoiding a costly penalty and punitive increases to your insurance rates.
Whether you’ve been charged with speeding, running a red light or even a parking ticket, you should know your options when it comes to disputing the offence. We’ll guide you through some options and make sure you’re prepared to take on the system if needed.
Speeding is a major contributing factor for vehicle collisions across Canada. The result of those accidents can be fatal, so it’s no surprise that speeding tickets can be as high as $500, depending on which province you live in.
The way speeding is enforced – through technology like cameras and radar guns – is not infallible and mistakes can be made by the officer administering the equipment. Speed cameras are also very unpopular and viewed as an unfair tax grab.
Ontario scrapped photo radar in 1995 under then premier, Mike Harris. Now, Toronto hopes to install as many as 50 intersection cameras by year end, bringing about $11 million to city coffers, if the province approves. In 2017, there were close to 500,000 speeding violations in Ontario.
Before we go into how to fight a speeding ticket, ask yourself an important question – how much is your time worth? Disputing a ticket requires a considerable amount of your time, including a possible daytime court appearance that could require a day off from work. Will the amount you lose from missing work be worth what you save in beating a ticket? Do the calculation.
That being said, the financial implications can go beyond the ticket’s penalty. Your insurance premiums can be affected by any demerits incurred by a speeding infraction. A ticket or two can mean an ugly jump in your insurance rates, especially if you’re a younger person already paying the higher end of the spectrum.
When you decide to dispute a speeding ticket, you will be given your day in court to plead your case in front of a judge or justice of the peace, depending on your province. Most agree that your best chance at beating a speeding ticket is by simply showing up and hoping the officer who issued the ticket doesn’t. There are plenty of reasons why he or she may no-show.
If the officer doesn’t show – and remember the police force isn’t too keen on paying an officer to spend a day fighting a traffic ticket in court – you’re likely going to beat the rap because he or she isn’t there to defend their issuance.
You might get the option to make a deal with the Crown prosecutor for a lesser charge and/or a reduced fine amount. This means pleading guilty to the charge, which can typically get you a 50% reduction on your fine.
Some argue that you should never take a deal. You will pay less money upfront, but you will still get dinged on demerits, affecting your insurance rates and costing you more in the long run.
It might also be a good idea to request disclosure before appearing in court. The police officer will have to present notes on your speeding violation and those notes need to be consistent with the time of the infraction, the location, details about your vehicle, and more. Review these notes and ensure they are correct, or are at least consistent with your version of events. If your speeding ticket is a bunch of illegible scribble, there’s a possibility the judge will dismiss the charge.
If your speeding ticket was the result of a radar gun, you might be wondering if that’s disputable. Is that like trying to argue with a computer? Not quite, radar guns are imperfect devices that require calibration by police before being used. It can require what’s called a tuning fork, which calibrates the gun to correctly capture the speed of moving objects (like your car).
When you request disclosure, you can ask for a copy of the calibration and if there’s no info from the officer about calibrating the radar gun you might get out of the ticket. Some lawyers argue that inconsistent calibration have led to many false convictions.
Let’s get something straight – you should be driving safe all the time; not just when you think you’re under the traffic camera’s watchful eye. However, knowledge of where traffic cameras are located in your city will help you stay mindful of speed and whether or not you should race through that yellow light (usually never).
The location of traffic cameras is not supposed to be secretive – governments freely divulge their locations. The website photoenforced is a handy user-generated database of photo enforcement and traffic camera locations in most major cities in Canada.
No one likes to come back to their car to see that unwelcome piece of paper trapped between their windshield and wiper. However, parking tickets do not count against your driving record and thus doesn’t affect your insurance, so if you’re thinking of disputing ask yourself if it’s worth the time investment.
If you feel you’ve been wronged, you can fight the ticket, but each city has its own process of dispute resolution:
Before meeting the screening officer or arriving for a court date, be prepared with documentation. And keep in mind, in the case of Vancouver, if your ticket is upheld you will have to cough up an extra $25 for putting everyone through the process.
If you were tagged going through a red light by a traffic camera, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is you’re getting hammered with an ugly fine. The good news: since the camera only captures your license plate, not who’s driving, no demerits can be applied to your record.
Fighting this is a similar process to speeding tickets. You will have to argue that there was something wrong with the methodology of the traffic camera, and let’s face it, that’s going to be an uphill climb. If you were caught cruising through a red light by an officer, you will face demerits as well as the fine.
Getting a traffic violation is painful – it’s a hit to your wallet and an even bigger potential hit to your insurance rates. But let’s be clear – fighting it takes time, patience and preparation. Would it be easier to just swallow the fine and move on? Definitely. But if there’s a fiery sense of injustice burning in your gut, you should always fight for what you believe is right.
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