Restorative Justice: An Alternative to the Traffic Ticket

Scales of JusticeQuite some time ago I wrote about an initiative to trade your ticket for driver training. I was very pleased with the outcome of the one instance that I tried on my own, but the program never took off as the provincial government required the RCMP to provide it to all drivers if it was implemented. The Victoria Police Department is trying something similar through Restorative Justice Victoria.

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Restorative Justice in Victoria

An article in the Victoria Times Colonist reports that Cst. Sean Millard implemented his idea as a pilot project that exchanged a distracted driving ticket for a 3 hour restorative justice session on December 10, 2017.

32 drivers ranging in age from 20 to 60 chose to participate instead of paying the $543 fine.

These drivers completed cognitive tests that demonstrated how difficult simple tasks become when you’re distracted. They heard personal stories, including those of a retired firefighter who talked about having to pry people out of vehicles in crashes caused by distracted driving.

Restorative Justice in Surrey

The Surrey RCMP Detachment has a similar program called the Safe Driver Dialogue Circle.

Karen Bowman, who founded Drop It and Drive ran parts of the workshop. In founding Drop It and Drive Karen developed a program delivery method to achieve behavioural change through imparting knowledge, science and practical, usable tools in a highly efficient and engaging manner.

How Restorative Justice Works

Restorative justice helps people understand how their actions affect others to create long-lasting change. The programs, if they exist in your community, are run by volunteers. 

Participation in a restorative justice program like this one starts with a referral by the police, and this is likely going to be the biggest hurdle. One traffic court judicial justice that I have spoken with commented on officer resistance to step outside the normal procedure for dealing with ticket disputes, even when suggested by the court.

Referral also depends on having an appropriate program in place with your restorative justice group along with the needed volunteers to deliver it. If you want to make a difference in your community, consider volunteering.

Canada's Road Safety Vision

Starting with Road Safety Vision in 2001, Canada's national road safety strategy contained public education initiatives and targeted high risk driving behaviour. Known as the Road Safety Strategy 2025 today, this restorative justice program neatly fits that target and recognizes that the traffic ticket is not the only way to change driving behaviour for the better.

Leave Your Phone Alone!

Should we have to take drivers by the hand and explain to them that distracted driving is dangerous and they should not do it? I think not, but part of the problem is that we tend to let our behaviours change to suit our perceived risk. If you cannot leave your phone alone, then the more effective ways that there are to convince you that you should, the better off we'll all be.

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I think this is a great initiative that really will open the eyes of most people to the negative effects of distracted driving.

On the other hand, I'm reminded of the speeders who continue to excessively speed after many tickets...or that one lady who got two distracted driving tickets within eight minutes. I'm also thinking about that one person who had multiple devices attached to his steering wheel but was let off with a lenient 'failure to provide licence' ticket. Are these people really going to learn? Hopefully, most people are different and will be educated by the program.

A second concern would be the cost of the program. Shouldn't some of the cost be offset by the offenders, rather than the taxpayers? A balance might be to halve the cost of the ticket and remove the penalty points IF the person attends the program. And if the person gets another distracted driving ticket after attending the program, the previous discounts should be reversed.

Just a few off-the-cuff thoughts.

I'm a strong supporter of RJ and feel it should play a greater role in the community. Don't have any figures to provide but the recidivism rate is almost non-existent whereas the adversarial Court system is the complete opposite.

For Curious Driver if this RJ program is ran as others are there is no cost the programs are run by unpaid volunteers and quite often even the meeting rooms are provided free. Far different than a regular traffic Court.

Only concern I have is when I see there appears to be a professional part to the program. Once you have a person, in this case Karen Bowman, presenting a course which she has developed, you have taken the concept of a peer based program to one that is starting to move towards the adversarial Courts where one is forced through the Courts to take a program. I very much doubt that she is providing her time free of charge. Once you bring in a paid professional component it no longer in my opinion meets the definition of Restorative Justice.

This is my concern. I do not want to see an excellent program that is working throughout Canada with a high degree of success destroyed by turning it into a semi-professional organisation.

Then there is my other concern why are we putting so much emphasis into distracted driving as we are moving closer to full autonomous driving yearly? How many of these people charged today are driving cars that brake automatically, swerve to avoid an accident? Are we really accomplishing anything? Then there are the exceptions. How can you charge one person $543.00 for an infraction that if you are an emergency responder is permitted to do?

Final thought on this post is a police officer, firefighter, ambulance driver permitted to drive their own vehicle and not be charged? If not, how can we justify a person speeding to an emergency, can use a cell phone, but driving home after work they can be charged? I believe there is an old saying "Justice must not only be done, but must be seen to be done". Two-tiered justice is never effective. It just breeds contempt. The kid hit in the crosswalk by a texting cop is just as dead as the kid that got hit by a regular driver.

All for the concept but please don't destroy an excellent program. Do it as our moderator did. Allow people to not pay the fine if they take the program drop it and drive. Leave RJ as peer run. By the way Edmonton has an excellent RJ program for teens that is run by teens.

A very brief Google search led me to a 2003 literature review done by Public Safety Canada, which found that RJ is associated with an 8% reduction in recidivism for adults (which is good, but not the nearly non-existent recidivism that you had claimed). Regardless, the research seems to suggest that RJ works. Hopefully, RJ works well in terms of traffic-related violations.


We're still at least three to four years away from fully-autonomous vehicles on our roads, based on the most optimistic forecasts. These are very optimistic timelines, considering that self-driving vehicles have not been fully tested in Canada and across all weather conditions yet. And even when autonomous vehicles are on the road, there will be a transition period where there will be a mix of traditional and autonomous vehicles on the road.

My point is that people will still be driving for at least another decade. Distracted driving is a huge factor in crash deaths, contributing to more crashes than impaired driving in the past five years (according to ICBC). If we stop emphasizing distracted driving because autonomous vehicles are coming, why not stop emphasizing speeding or impaired driving? Police still need to enforce and discourage dangerous driving behaviours while we're still driving.


I agree that distracted driving should be minimized for emergency responders. But at the same time, emergency responders need to attend to an emergency as soon as (safely) possible, which may require constant, quick updates on emergency information using an electronic device. In some circumstances, the risk of an officer using an electronic device while driving may be less than the risk of not having vital, current information or showing up to the emergency late. 

I support this exemption in emergency situations, but outside of that, I don't think there should be an exemption. Currently, if making an emergency call to 9-1-1, all drivers (including us) are exempt from the distracted driving laws too.


Would you mind providing the address of the report that you refer to.

There is currently 40 community based RJ's and 27 Aboriginal Justice Programs in B.C. and that is what I was referring to. I am not up on the stats Canada wide but have to say that I find the numbers you provided do not correlate with what I hear. If you want to dispute what I have posted provided more than the I have checked and give an address.

I am reluctant to go to any length searching for information since I was called to task on what I provided regarding the Graduated Licencing program and even after finding the information and posting the person that called me a liar did not have enough guts and integrity to admit that he did not know what he was babbling about. So, in this case post an address so people can check the stats you are quoting or else shut up until you can say something more intelligent that I have googled this.

Hate to be rude but I find that so many that post on this side claim statistics but never deliver.


I am reluctant to go to any length searching for information since I was called to task on what I provided regarding the Graduated Licencing program and even after finding the information and posting the person that called me a liar did not have enough guts and integrity to admit that he did not know what he was babbling about

James, I was going to respond to that thread, just got very busy. I know I got it wrong there on the point we were discussing. Don't recall calling you a liar, though.

Then the site went down, and I've looked for the thread more than once, but so far without luck - I believe the subject starter was in fact the Enhanced Road Assessment? If you could post a link to the thread then that would be great as I'm not done babbling yet.

Thanks, Paul

In reply to by James_O

The report was found by searching 'restorative justice' and 'recidivism' on Google. Here is the first link of that search, where a 2003 literature review of 46 studies showed a decrease of recidivism of 8% in adults after restorative justice programs.…

This literature review is based upon older research, but more recent meta-analyses (which you can find with the Google search) have a similar pattern - on average, restorative justice works better than traditional methods to reduce recidivism, with a small to moderate effect size.

I agree that restorative justice works, but it doesn't lower the recidivism rate down to 'almost non-existent' levels. In addition, most restorative justice studies focus on criminal violations with specific victims, rather than traffic violations that don't necessarily have a specific victim. Only further testing will tell how effective restorative justice is for traffic violations.

I find your last comment about 'claiming statistics but never delivering' ironic, considering that your initial post stated "Don't have any figures to provide but the recidivism rate is almost non-existent..."


The statement I made was based on our local RJ program and from what I had been told. Since then I have contacted RJ in B.C. asking for provincial statistics and am still waiting for a reply. Will contact our AG today and see if I can get something from there faster.

Will post when I rreceive. Unfortunately it may not be this week and sorry about that.

Regarding the restorative justice story, I could not help but to think that such offenders will always opt for the three hour course saving 534 dollars and no points. What is missing from that “easy out program” is NO ACCOUNTABILITY, so they take the instruction (that’s $141 dollars per hour for going to class.) and hopefully they do not repeat the infraction. If this alternative to a traffic ticket becomes the norm, it may even lead to greater texting as some might think, heck I can text as the first time caught will be a “free pass”.

Here is a suggestion:

The Accountability should be IF CAUGHT AGAIN UNDER AN ENGAGED DISTRACTED DRIVING OFFENSE, Then the original one time “free pass charge” should be re-instated and added to the new offence with perhaps a double fine or at least a $1000 since they failed the benefit from the education. This would be a much greater deterrent to texting…...