I was caught by a laser speed trap going 32 km/h over the limit on the highway. Should I bother taking it to court? The officer reduced the fine amount, but could I get them to lower the number of demerits? It's my first ticket. – Justin
Think there's no point in fighting a speeding ticket?
Not so fast. If you quietly pay it, your insurance rates rates could jump quicker than that needle on your speedometer.
"It's probably worth fighting because your insurance is going to be affected even if there are no demerits," says Jennifer Zubick, law professor at Toronto's Humber College, which trains paralegals. "Fighting it could cost more than the ticket – but it could save you money when you factor in your insurance."
Convictions could cost you
If you pay a speeding ticket, you're automatically convicted – and that conviction appears on your driving record. When insurance companies set your rates, they look at the number of convictions you've had in the past three years – not the number of demerits. "Convictions are categorized as minor, major and serious – minor includes following too closely and speeding," says Pete Karageorgos, director of consumer and industry relations with the Insurance Bureau of Canada. "Speeding 50 km/h over the posted limit is a serious conviction as is impaired driving."
Some companies let you get away with your first minor conviction, but others may raise your rates right away.
We looked online at rates in Toronto for a married, employed 35-year-old male driver of a 2014 Honda Civic. With no tickets in the past three years, the lowest rate we found was $1,710 a year. For one speeding ticket, it was $2,010. For two it was $2,400.
But, the company has to know about the ticket. Because it costs money to get a copy of your driving record, they rely on you to tell them when you get a ticket.
Guilty or not guilty?
Traffic court is a real court. There's no judge or jury – but there's a justice of the peace and a Crown prosecutor. The officer who wrote the ticket will have to show up.
You can make a deal with the Crown to plead guilty to a lesser charge, so you'll pay a lower fine and get fewer demerits. That could make sense if you've already got demerits racked up.
Speeding 30-49 km/h over the limit is four demerits; 16-29 km/h over is three and there are no demerits of you're 15 km/h or less over the limit.
For G1 or G2 drivers, six demerits could be enough to get a licence suspension.
You could also make a deal in advance, says Toronto traffic lawyer Kevin R. Burrows.
"Many police officers have taken to suggesting to people that they should go and see the prosecutor themselves to ask for a reduction," Burrows says in an e-mail. "This is entirely inappropriate, because it attempts to steer people away from their fundamental right to seek legal advice."
A deal saves the officer from going to court to have his evidence challenged, Burrows says.
He who represents himself?
The only way to get the ticket thrown out entirely – so it stays off your record and doesn't affect your insurance – is to plead not guilty and make the Crown prove the case.
"They have to prove they have the right car, that the radar device was tested that day and met the manufacturer's specifications," Zubick says. "Or the officer may have written something down incorrectly, maybe the defendant was in a blue car but he wrote down red."
You can represent yourself. There's plenty of advice online. But it can be tough to win the case if you don't know the Highway Traffic Act, the Provincial Offences Act or court procedure, Zubick says.
"I've sat in court before and watched people fight their own tickets unsuccessfully," she says.
You can hire help. In Ontario, that's usually a paralegal – most lawyers only handle more serious charges. A paralegal could cost you $250 or more. That's usually more than the ticket.
"I wouldn't say that everyone should always fight a speeding ticket in court – but if you drive for a living, it may be worth it," Zubick says. "Some people just want it over with and they'll say, 'I know I was speeding, I'll pay my fine and slow down next time.'"
In 2014, more than 555,300 speeding charges were laid in Ontario. More than 25,200 were "disposed of by way of withdrawal, stay, dismissal or acquittal," says Ministry of the Attorney General spokesman Brendan Crawley.
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