Traffic violations in Canada are punished under provincial legislation, not the Criminal Code. Traffic tickets in British Columbia stem from the Motor Vehicle Act, which creates multiple offences and sanctions. Penalties for traffic violations depend on the severity and frequency of driving offences within a given time period.

Traffic Ticket Definition

Traffic tickets are notices given by police officers to motorists, indicating they broke traffic laws and will receive penalties, like fines, driving prohibitions, and demerit points. Tickets are divided into moving and non moving violations, which cover driving and parking infractions, respectively.

What is a Traffic Ticket?

A traffic ticket is a notice you receive from a police officer that indicates you contravened one or more provisions of the Motor Vehicle Act or Motor Vehicle Act Regulations and will therefore face penalties.

The Motor Vehicle Act creates manifold offences for which you may receive a traffic ticket, including:

  • Speed in municipality if the speed limit is exceeded by less than 21 km/hr
  • Speed in municipality if the speed limit is exceeded by 21 km/hr to 40 km/hr
  • Speeding on highway if the speed limit is exceeded by less than 21 km/hr
  • Speed on highway if the speed limit is exceeded by 21 km/hr to 40 km/hr
  • Excessive speed if the speed limit is exceeded by 41 km/hr to 60 km/hr
  • Excessive speed if the speed limit is exceeded by more than 60 km/hr
  • Fail to yield on right turn at red light
  • Using a cell phone while driving
  • Distracted driving
  • Careless driving

Upon being ticketed, you will receive written notice of your charge. The severity of the infraction will dictate whether you need to attend court, as well as the dispute process you must follow should you wish to dispute your charges.

Violation Ticket

Violation tickets are issued for less serious traffic infractions. Violation tickets list each offence with which you are charged along with its corresponding penalty fine. You will not need to attend court if you do not wish to dispute your violation ticket. You must only pay the total fine amount specified on the ticket, which is generally lower if you pay it within 30 days.

It is your constitutional right to dispute a violation ticket if you so choose. If you wish to dispute your ticket, you have thirty days, inclusive of weekends and holidays, from the issue date of the ticket to do so.

Summons or Appearance Notice

For more serious traffic infractions, you may receive a summons or appearance notice. A summons is issued at a later date by mail, while an appearance notice is issued by the police officer at the time of the offence. Both a summons and appearance notice oblige you to attend court on a specified date. As the penalties for such offences are decided by the court, fines are not specified on either notice.

Disputing Traffic Tickets

You have thirty days, inclusive of weekends and holidays, from the issue date of the ticket to dispute it. Instructions for filing a dispute can be found on the back of your ticket. You may file your dispute in writing, or in person at an ICBC Driver Licensing Office.

You will not face increased penalties if you choose to dispute your ticket. It’s your constitutional right to challenge a traffic ticket. You also have the right to legal representation to assist you in this if you so choose.

Should you choose to dispute your ticket, traffic offences are generally prosecuted by the police officer who issued your ticket, not a lawyer. If the officer fails to attend your dispute hearing, the judge will decide whether to dismiss your case or adjourn it to a later date. Officers in BC are incentivised with increased pay to attend dispute hearings.

Traffic Offences in the Motor Vehicle Act

Concerning obedience to speed signs, section 140 of the Motor Vehicle Act states that a person must not drive or operate a vehicle at a greater rate of speed than, or in a manner different from, that indicated on the signs.

Regarding careless driving, section 144 of the Motor Vehicle Act states that

  1. A person must not drive a motor vehicle on a highway
    1. without due care and attention,
    2. without reasonable consideration for other persons using the highway, or
    3. at a speed that is excessive relative to the road, traffic, visibility or weather conditions.
  2. A person who contravenes subsection (1) (a) or (b) is liable on conviction to a fine of not less than $100 and, subject to this minimum fine, section 4 of the Offence Act applies.

On excessive speeding, section 148 of the Motor Vehicle Act states that

  1. a person who drives a motor vehicle on a highway at a speed greater than 40 km/h over the applicable speed limit set under the authority of an enactment commits an offence and is liable on conviction to not less than the aggregate of the fine amount and the applicable supplemental fine amount, if any, prescribed under section 148.1 for this offence and, subject to those amounts, section 4 of the Offence Act applies.
  2. If a person is charged with an offence under subsection (1) and the evidence does not prove the offence but does prove a contravention of section 140, 146 or 147, the person may be convicted of contravening section 140, 146 or 147, as the case may be, and the person is liable on that conviction to not less than the aggregate of the fine amount and the applicable supplemental fine amount, if any, prescribed under section 148.1 for that offence.

Traffic Ticket Penalties

Penalties for traffic tickets depend on the severity and frequency of ticketed infractions within a given time period and may include:

  • Fines
  • Demerit points
  • Driver Penalty Point Premium
  • Driver Risk Premium
  • Vehicle impoundment for serious or multiple offences
  • Driving prohibitions for serious or multiple offences
  • License reinstatement fees

Fines and Points

Your ticket lists each offence with which you are charged along with its corresponding penalty fines. A reduced fine is payable within 30 days, with an increased amount due thereafter.

Each offence is additionally associated with a number of points, which register on your driving record, permanently. It is your driving abstract (not your driving record) that’s used to calculate Autoplan insurance and ICBC premiums. Points will disappear from your driving abstract, which is merely a picture of the last five years of your driving record, in five years.

Driver Penalty Points Premium

ICBC has two different driver premium programs: the Driver Penalty Points Premium and the Driver Risk Premium. Since drivers with more driving offences have more crashes, accumulating more than three points on your driving record in one year will result in you having to pay the Driver Penalty Points Premium.

The Driver Penalty Points Premium is invoiced yearly, and the more penalty points on your driving record, the greater the premium you can expect to pay. Separate from Autoplan insurance premiums, the Driver Penalty Points Premium is billed whether or not you own or insure a vehicle.

Driver Risk Premiums

Different from the Driver Penalty Points Premium program is the Driver Risk Premium. Each year prior to your assessment date ICBC reviews your driving record for offences within the previous three years. For certain serious offences a Driver Risk Premium may apply in addition to fines and points.

The Driver Risk Premium is invoiced yearly, but each driving offence may affect your bill for up to three years, depending on your driving record in that period. Separate from Autoplan insurance premiums, the Driver Risk Premium is billed whether or not you own or insure a vehicle. ICBC will not renew or reinstate your license until your Driver Risk Premium is paid in full.

The following offences will result in an ICBC Driver Risk Premium:

  • One or more driving-related Criminal Code convictions
  • One or more 10-point Motor Vehicle Act convictions
  • One or more excessive speeding convictions
  • Two or more roadside suspensions/prohibitions
  • Two or more convictions over a three-year period for using an electronic device while driving

Vehicle Impoundment

Depending on the severity of the driving offence for which you’re ticketed, the police have the authority to tow and impound your vehicle. Your vehicle may be impounded for three or seven days, or greater than thirty days. For three and seven day impoundments you may reclaim your vehicle directly from the impoundment lot. For longer impoundments you will need to visit an ICBC driver licensing office with your identification and Notice of Impoundment. You will need to pay towing and storage fees to secure the release of your vehicle regardless of the length of the impoundment.

Besides impaired driving, there are multiple driving offences for which your vehicle could be impounded:

  • Driving while unlicensed
  • Driving while improperly licensed
  • Driving while suspended or prohibited
  • Excessive speeding (40km/hr or more over the posted limit)
  • Street racing or performing a stunt
  • Improperly seated on a motorcycle

Driving Prohibitions

Driving prohibitions from traffic tickets can result in three ways:

  • Road Safety BC’s Superintendent of Motor Vehicles can issue a driving prohibition at the request of the officer who furnished your ticket. Issued by mail, the prohibition begins when you receive it and may last up to six months. Notoriously difficult to dispute, you may not drive while disputing the prohibition.
  • The Superintendent of Motor Vehicles can also issue you a driving prohibition when the violation is added to your record. In such cases, disputing your ticket will postpone your prohibition until a resolution is reached.
  • If you are unsuccessful in disputing a ticket, the issuing officer can request a driving prohibition be appended to your sentence. The BC Supreme Court handles appeals of court ordered driving prohibitions, and your prohibition will remain until it expires or you resolve your dispute.
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