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?



Here are my thoughts on what I would do if I received a violation ticket: Pull over and stop immediately.

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.

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.
  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.

Reference Links:

invalid traffic violation?

I received a violation last night for failure to stop at a stop sign.  The officer had followed me through about 6 stop signs, I believe waiting for me to commit a violation, as I am known to our local police.  FInally, he did get me rolling through one, barely.  I had stopped but not at a "complete" stop where the brakes actually locked.  Anyways, I got into an arguement with him, finally he threw the ticket in my window and I sprayed gravel at him as I left.  Later, as I looked closely at the ticket, I noticed that he had thrown me the original, white copy of which he was supposed to keep and sign the back that he had served it to me, rather than the blue copy they're supposed to give you. 

My question is, could that be rendered invalid as it was the wrong copy?

Invalid? Probably.

Chances are just about 100% that this ticket isn't going anywhere, however there is nothing that would prevent the officer from serving you properly at a later date. The limitation of action under the Motor Vehicle Act is 1 year.

I expect that the ICBC ticket unit will refuse to deal with any copy but the original, and there is necessity to make sure you have the instructions on how to deal with the ticket which only appear on the back of the violator's copy.

The officer throwing your copy of the ticket into the window would be considered proper service if you had gotten the blue copy. Spraying the gravel when you leave is just an invitation to stop you again and write more....

Thank-you for your quick

Thank-you for your quick reply.  So do I need to take the ticket to my ICBC office in order for them to either say its invalid, or to send it in as they usually do when I dispute it, and then have to go to court and have the judge rule it invalid, or can I just igonore it....I'm not sure if I do that if I will mess it up for myself as it may be considered uncontested and after 30 days become due & payable.

Thanks once again,


(And I know that spraying the gravel was a dumb thing to do, but it felt good anyway, although I do know they could've easily come after me again.)

You're Welcome

I try to respond as quickly as I am able. Sometimes I take a day or two but I always reply if the question is a serious one.

You could take it and try to enter a dispute. I toyed with the thought of mentioning it, but decided that it was unlikely that you would need to. If the person you talk to advises you that it is not necessary, note the date, time, person's name and comment in case it does come back to haunt you.

Forgive me, but being a long time traffic cop, I just can't resist asking, wouldn't it just be easier to come to a full stop at a stop sign?

to answer your question...

As I mentioned, they were behind me for at least 6 stop signs, I was trying to lose that one but another one was hiding .   I carefully came to a stop every other time, and I kind of hoped that he would take that into account when I didn't completely stop that last time.  And, it was after 1 a.m. with no traffic around period, and if cars would have been coming the other way who had the right of way, then yeah I would've stopped.

But all those are moot points anyways.

Have a good evening!


Impaired Driver

Your behaviour was making you a cop magnet. At that time of day I would have been very curious about you and suspect that I might have an impaired driver (or someone else with something to hide) in front of me if that was what I was seeing.

When you aren't doing anything wrong, you're invisible.

incorrect sign size

This may not be the right spot to post, but I was hoping for opinions.

I recently received a ticket for speeding in a 30km/hr zone. I was speeding, but I never even saw the tiny, tiny sign. There were branches blocking the view and when I went back to look at the sign I measured it and found that its the not the correct size! 

PS-001-Tb is the sign and as far as I can tell, it needs to be 45cm x 45cm, and the sign that I missed was 45cm x 30cm.


Is this worth fighting? Could I win? It's a $200 ticket!

Sign Size

Was this in BC Melissa? The advice that I give may not apply in other jurisdictions...

You will find that the physical size is not that important to the court as long as the sign conforms to colour and proportion. It would be better to dispute the ticket due to the obstruction of the sign. You would want to take pictures of it to illustrate your point during the trial.

Traffic Officer demanding mug shot


I understand from researching the law that the Police have the right to photograph you only if you are arrested for an indictable offense.

If a motorcyclist was stopped in BC and cited for failure to produce a drivers license, and the officer then demanded (specifically did not ask permission) the rider remove his helmet for a mug shot and took one, how could the rider address this?  Is there anything she could do to have the photograph destroyed?  Would this be something appropriate to bring up in traffic court in some way?

The issue is that a photograph taken of a rider moments after removing their helmet would be prejudicial to anyone viewing it (due to an obviously disheveled appearance that was never viewable in public).

Police Taking Photos

The Supreme Court has ruled that the officer may take a photograph of the subject involved in an investigation as part of the note taking process. The photo is only to be used as part of that investigation.

I used to do it regularly when people did not produce a license, especially if I knew that there would be a court appearance in the future. It was a significant help in prohibited driving and driver personation cases.

Most people allowed it when I explained what I was doing and why. It was much easier than the alternative of being arrested and held until their identity was established.

As far as not getting your good side, I would certainly have given someone the opportunity of combing their hair if they had asked. It would also be taken into account at trial if you explained to the JP, especially with the contrast that you are able to present yourself when you attend the trial. I would like to hope that it would not be prejudicial for that fact alone.


Failue to stop at stop sign

It was late at night in a neighbourhood area and I came to an awkward 5stop where the lane to the right of me comes somewhat out of the blue. (It is not a 90degrees to the right of me btu perhaps more like 45). I failed to stop and the cop pulled me over, gave me a talk and issued mea $167 ticket. I am a student and have tons of student loans to pay off and don't know if I can pay this off! I am going to dispute it, but do I dispute the allegation? (because he has no evidence) or do I dispute the ticket? If I dispute the ticket, what do I say in court to reduce it as much as possible? Perhaps the cop could have been recording me (doubt it?) but he said "did you make a complete stop" and i said "no". So he has me there if he did in fact record our conversation.


What do I do? Please reply

Disputing the Penalty

You didn't stop, you told him you didn't stop and you say that he has no evidence? I doubt very much that he pulled you over at random to ask if you stopped or not. Simply watching you not stop IS evidence.

As the original post says, you can choose to dispute either the allegation or the penalty, but you do have to consider which is most worth your while. If you did come to a complete stop at the proper place then I would not hesitate to dispute the allegation. Otherwise, you may wish to dispute the penalty in writing, especially if you will be in class or writing an exam when the trial date occurs.

The right time to ask for evidence


Thank-you very much for your answer above.

I have a related procedure question.  When is an appropriate time to ask for disclosure of the crown evidence?  Is there an opportunity to do this in writing prior to the hearing?  Should this be done once the court date is set, or any time is ok?

Right Time

The right time to ask for disclosure is immediately after deciding that you are going to dispute the allegation. You do this by writing to the officer who wrote the ticket and requesting it. You may deliver the request by mail, hand, fax or even e-mail these days.

Speeding Ticket

This weekend I was issued a speeding ticket for speed against a highway sign.  On the ticket the motor vehicle act section says 143(3), however I was looking at the ICBC website which says it should be 146(3). 

Can I dispute a ticket on this basis?  I was speeding and am willing to pay the fine but of course would rather not if I can get out of it.  I'm assuming the ticket is still valid but I would appreciate your expertise.

Final Response

I've copied this question into the forum under traffic tickets and will make my reply there.

I think this topic will soon get far too long and contain so many different types of questions that no one will be able to make sense of it. Using the forum will allow a new topic under Traffic Tickets for each type of question.

I am going to close this topic for comments, please use the forum link above.

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