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DriveSmart BC – Opinion – A Few Thoughts On Traffic Tickets

Arrest someone, fight with them, throw them in jail and see them through to penalty in criminal court seems to be business as usual for the police, but write someone a traffic ticket and it’s like you’ve called their mother a bad name. Very few drivers hang their heads, apologize for their mistake and said hand over my ticket, I’ll do better next time. Those people do exist and probably receive the benefit of a doubt more often but those that don’t wind up asking me for dispute advice in the DriveSmartBC discussion forums.

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Those drivers who admit to an error are willing to pay the price of the ticket as long as they don’t get any penalty points. This is often heard prior to the commencement of traffic court if the issuing officer makes inquiries among the disputants. The trouble is, if you plead not guilty and are found to be, the justice presiding has no control over penalty points. They are assessed by ICBC in response to the conviction.

The only way to avoid penalty points is to be convicted as the registered owner of the vehicle involved in the offence rather than as the driver. Police officers write tickets to drivers rather than registered owners for a good reason. Bad driving behaviour deserves to be recorded so that the driver can be dealt with appropriately if they continue disregard the rules. Registered owner violations are not recorded so there is no continuing accountability. Penalty points are incidental to the driving record.

Many drivers hope to successfully dispute a violation ticket for reasons including such things as the officer not asking them to sign the ticket, that vehicle details have been left blank or or incorrect in some way, the radar reading was not recorded on the ticket or a spelling error has been made. In most cases, these things are not immediately fatal to a successful prosecution.

On the face of all violation tickets is the advice “Shaded areas of this ticket are not part of the offence charged.” Errors or omissions in these blanks will not invalidate the ticket outright.

The Offence Act allows two methods for amending a ticket, prior to trial or after the prosecution’s evidence has been given at trial. I have always found that the justice is reluctant to grant an officer’s request for an amendment. The sentiment expressed seemed to be that if you can’t write it correctly in the first place, don’t try to fix it now.

The most effective method for an officer to use to overcome a mistake caught before trial is to simply issue a new ticket. This will “repair” errors or even correct an improperly chosen charge. The initial ticket is cancelled through notification to ICBC or having the justice dismiss it on the trial date. The limitation of action in the Motor Vehicle Act allows a ticket to be served within one year of the date of the offence.

There is plenty of advice and misadvice on the internet to use in planning a ticket dispute. Consider your research source carefully before you decide to rely on it. Give preference to trusted sources such as web sites for BC law firms and avoid information from the United States or counsel from discussion topics written by people with unstated qualification. Better still, take advantage of the Canadian Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service. It is educated and economical.

To comment or learn more, please visit

Constable Tim Schewe (Retired)

DriveSmartBC: Where better than average drivers satisfy their curiosity.

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