Q&A: How to Deal with a Traffic Ticket

Q&A ImageWhat do I need to know to properly look after my interests if I receive a traffic ticket?

(Article last updated: June 1, 2020)



Here are my thoughts on what I would do if I received a violation ticket: Pull over and stop depending on the circumstances. Here is advice on what is required.

Produce all documents requested. You would be surprised how many people can't handle this part. Listen carefully to what the officer has to say. Once you have listened, if you have a comment or a question ask politely. Even if you are unhappy with the state of affairs, being impolite or argumentative will prevent you from hearing all that is said, and it might be important to your defense.

Chances are, at this point the officer will retreat to the police vehicle to prepare the ticket. Use this time to consider your situation, make notes, and prepare any other questions that come to mind. When the officer returns to serve the ticket, listen carefully to what is said again. If the ticket is offered to you to sign, do so if you wish. If not, politely decline. If you choose not to sign, being antagonistic at this point could convince the officer to add to the ticket before serving it to you.

As of August 2019 the use of electronic tickets for Motor Vehicle Act offences is being rolled out across the province. The hard copy of the ticket given to you by the officer will not have a place for either of you to sign. Signatures are not required and you will simply be handed the copy to deal with. Tickets for offences under other provincial statutes will still be written by hand.

Ask your questions before you hand the ticket back if you are signing. The officer will not make a quick retreat while you still hold all copies of the ticket. If you are not going to get anywhere with the questions, there is no point in prolonging the agony, hand the ticket back. Try not to make remarks like "I'll see you in court!" or anything that would upset the officer. He/she will be less likely to accept suggestions to alternate dispositions later on and may choose to oppose fine reductions at trial time.

There is no point in demanding name and badge number, as it is already on the ticket itself. Even if all that is there is the signature, you can still find out who it is by contacting the police service listed on the ticket. You could ask politely for a business card in case you want to contact the officer later for clarification. The officer will now depart, leaving you to get on with your day.

This is a great time to make notes on the situation as you saw it. Record witness details, take pictures, make a sketch, whatever, so that you will be able to recall all the details at a trial a year down the road if necessary. Read all the papers issued to you carefully and thoroughly. Make sure you understand what it says and what is required of you. A lot of people run into trouble because they don't do this either.

Read the section of the statute that you are charged under. If you don't understand it, don't feel bad, sometimes it is not immediately obvious from the fancy legal wording. Request help if needed.

At this point you should have a fairly good idea what you are up against. If not, you could consider lawyer referral and/or some research.

"Fight That Ticket in British Columbia" is a good title to read. It is out of print and somewhat out of date, but still useful. You will likely find a copy of it at your library.

There are internet references as well, but try to make sure that you stick to references from British Columbia as procedures can be different elsewhere.

You now have to make one of four decisions:

  1. Decide that you did what the ticket says and pay it. DISCOUNT FOR EARLY PAYMENT: This is only available if you pay the ticket outright at the start. If you dispute, either the allegation or the penalty only, the discount will not apply. The ticket can be paid on line.
  2. Decide that you did what the ticket says, but follow the instructions on the back of it to dispute the penalty shown on the front of it or in the case where the penalty cannot be reduced, such as speeding, ask for a length of time to pay. You can have the penalty dispute heard at the court nearest to you rather than travelling a long distance if the incident did not happen locally. You make these arrangements at your local court registry office. It helps to take your copy of the ticket with you when you do this. As of July 1, 2003 penalty disputes may be made in writing rather than attending court. The forms to do this with are available on line.
  3. If you can show that you did not do what the ticket says you did, you could consider contacting the issuing officer or their supervisor and explain. They may choose to withdraw the ticket. Hopefully they will not use the opportunity to issue a new one with the correct offence if they got it wrong in the first place. I can recall once early in my career where I wrote a speed in school zone ticket at 5:05 pm. Obviously it was an invalid ticket and had I been given the opportunity, I would have happily torn it up and apologized. The driver didn't know this and wasted a chunk of his day waiting for a trial that never took place because I realized the mistake the day of the trial and withdrew it prior to his trial.
  4. Follow the instructions on the back of the ticket and plead not guilty. You will have to attend for trial at the address shown on your ticket.

Prepare ahead of time for your trial:

  • request disclosure. write to the officer involved and ask for notes, pictures, or documents that the police will be relying on for evidence at trial. Allow lots of time for the notice to reach the police and return the answer to you.
  • make notes ahead of time on the items that you wish to bring to the court's attention that will show you are not guilty of doing what was alleged.
  • subpeona any witnesses that you require. You do this by attending at the court registry with the names and addresses of the people that you require.
  • consider attending traffic court to observe before your trial date. This will allow you to become familiar with what will happen and allow you to be less nervous and more focussed on the big day.
  • at the courthouse on trial day before the trial commences is a good time to play "let's make a deal" with the officer. Talk to them outside the courtroom and make your offer. Things like offering to plead guilty to speeding at $138 instead of $196 might be accepted. You have nothing to lose by asking. Can't find the officer and still want to try? When your case is called, ask the judge for a brief adjournment to speak with the officer.
  • dress neatly, don't chew gum, turn off your pager/cell phone, take off your hat. In most cases the dispute will be heard in traffic court. The judicial justice of the peace is called "your worship" otherwise in provincial court it is "your honour". It's not too big a deal unless you are being discourteous. If you are first and don't know how to address the judge, ask, they will be impressed that you are earnest.
  • if you are going to call witnesses, have them leave the courtroom before your trial starts. They can sit and watch until then, but if they sit there and listen to part of the trial, their evidence is tainted and cannot be given as much weight by the court.
  • listen carefully to the evidence given by the officer. Take a pen and paper with you to make notes if you wish to.
  • on cross examination ask questions that highlight any evidence given by the officer that is to your advantage and ask if anything needs to be clarified so that you understand and can respond to it.
  • if you are going to give evidence know if you are going to affirm to tell the truth or if you want to swear on the bible. It's surprising how often this has to be explained as well.
  • be careful about choosing to give evidence on your own behalf. If you do, you are open to cross examination from the officer and must answer. Gaps in the officer's testimony can be filled in this way. This is not the time to complain about police treatment. The court is only interested in the evidence. Complaints about police misconduct are for the public complaints commission, not the traffic court.
  • both sides will be given a chance to summarize. The summary is your chance to highlight important parts of the evidence from both the officer and yourself (if you chose to testify) that show you are not guilty.
  • the verdict will be given and the judge will explain the reasons. If you are found not guilty, that's it. The ticket goes in the garbage can and you are free to go. If guilty, the trial now moves on to the penalty phase. The officer may choose to show the court your driving record (if you have one) and suggest that the penalty not be lowered if this is an offence without a minimum or a statutory amount. You have the chance to explain why the penalty should be different for your circumstances or failing that you can give evidence about your financial circumstances and ask for a reasonable length of time to pay. If the justice asks how long you need, be prepared with an answer. Don't just shrug your shoulders and leave it up to them.
  • if you think the guilty verdict is improper, it isn't necessary to say so. Stop by the court registry on your way out and ask about an appeal. You will likely be wise to seek advice from a lawyer before proceeding. Appeals take place in Supreme Court and it is very formal with all the i's dotted and t's crossed before you get there.

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