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driving concerns

I was parked at a meter while sitting in my car waiting for a call. I was waiting to find out how long the meeting would be so I knew how much to pay. I had a parking enforcement officer ride up to my car and tell me I had to pay. I told him I was waiting for a call and wouldn't pay until then. So he took out his ticket printer and was about to write me the ticket. He forced me to move my car. I was under the impression that if I was sitting in my car, they could not give me a parking ticket. Was I wrong? - Jim, Toronto

You can get a parking ticket whether you're sitting in, on, or next to your car. Unless you get lucky.

"Most of the people who pull over to text or make a call - 99 per cent of the time they should be okay," says Anthony Fabrizi, Toronto's manager of parking operations. "They can still be ticketed, but it's at the officer's discretion."

Most officers will typically walk past a driver who's texting or on the phone, check the next two or three cars ahead and then go back, Fabrizi says.

"If the guy fails to move after being told to, then he'd probably get a ticket," Fabrizi says.

But, again, it's up to the officer. There's no rule that says they can't ticket your car if you - or a passenger - is in it.

And, if you are in the car, it doesn't matter if you think you're technically not parked because your foot is on the brake and the car is still in Drive. You'll still get that $30 ticket. The same is true if your hazard lights are on.

The only benefit of you being there? You can move your car if they ask you to.

Get a load of this?

In Ontario, there's one situation where you likely won't get a ticket. The Highway Traffic Act says you're allowed to stop where it says No Parking if you're "standing temporarily for the purpose of, and while actually engaged in, loading or unloading merchandise or passengers."

But once you've got the washing machine - or grandma - in or out of the truck, you've got to move immediately. Waiting doesn't count.

"By the letter of the law, you physically have to have the trunk open and be putting boxes into the trunk," Fabrizi says. "The exemption immediately ceases when you close the trunk."

And that exemption doesn't apply in No Stopping or No Standing zones during rush hour, Fabrizi says. So, you can't block a lane of traffic at 4 p.m. while your kid's lacrosse team piles out of the minivan.

Otherwise, the city takes a "common sense approach," Fabrizi says.

There's a 10-minute grace period at meters. The driver has to prove they purchased at least 10 minutes of meter time and the meter expired less than 10 minutes before the time on the ticket. It also applies at park and display zones, Fabrizi says.

"So we don't ticket people unless a full 10 minutes has expired," Fabrizi says. "We allow couriers and delivery services that 10 minutes to deliver that pizza."

That is, as long as they're not delivering that Hawaiian, extra cheese during rush hour in a No Stopping or No Standing zone.

There are also exemptions if you have an accessible parking permit.

Cancelled? Check.

If you do get a ticket in Toronto, you might be able to get it cancelled. On Toronto's list of parking cancellation guidelines, there's a category for extenuating circumstances. You might be covered if you can prove that your car broke down. Or, if you had a medical emergency and couldn't top up the meter.

"We cancel about 150,000 tickets a year," Fabrizi says.

Other cities

We checked with Vancouver, Calgary and Montreal. They all say you can get a ticket if you haven't paid for parking - whether the car is occupied or not.

Of the three, Calgary's the only city where you don't have to pay for parking while you're actively loading or unloading a passenger.

In Vancouver, parking at an expired meter is $75. It's only $40 if you pay it within 14 days. If you don't pay in 21 days, it goes up by another $35, to $110.

A city spokesman says there's a five-minute grace period for parking in a No Parking zone, but no grace period for parking meters.

In Calgary, where there are no meters and parking is photo-enforced, parking without paying is a $75 ticket. It's reduced to $40 if you pay it in 10 days. And $50 if you pay in 30 days.

"The camera car doesn't know if a motorist has pulled over to make a phone call; the vehicle is stopped in a payment zone - which in Calgary means that it is 'parked,'" says Calgary Parking Authority spokesperson Adrian Mrdeza in an e-mail. "With that being said though, if a person pulls their vehicle into a payment zone and the camera car drives by, the driver has five minutes to make a payment to avoid receiving a ticket."

In Montreal, it's a $52 ticket. And, there are no official exemptions, Montreal police say.

"The rule of thumb is: don't do the infraction and you won't get a ticket," says Montreal police media relations Sgt. Laurent Gingras.

But, if you have pulled over at a meter to make a quick call or a text, an officer may be understanding. That said, it's better to pull over somewhere where there's free parking, Gingras says.

"Officers are not robots - they'll come talk to you and see what the situation is," Gingras says. "You might get off with the officer saying goodbye."

Have a driving question? Send it to Canada's pretty big, so let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.

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