What you should know
If you are charged with a more serious driving offence, such as careless driving or hit and run, you will get written notice in the form of an appearance notice or a summons. An appearance notice is given to you by a police officer at the time of the offence. A summons is mailed to you or personally delivered to you. These documents describe the offence you are charged with. They also tell you when you have to appear in court.
At your first appearance in court, you are asked how you plead (respond to the charge against you). If you plead not guilty, a trial date is set. At the trial, the police and possibly other witnesses tell the judge what they think happened, and you get a chance to do the same. The judge then decides whether you are guilty.
The police will give you a violation ticket (an ordinary traffic ticket) for less serious driving offences. It is used for many offences under provincial laws such as the Motor Vehicle Act, including speeding, distracted driving, and running a red light.
Read the ticket carefully, because it should show the offence you are charged with. The ticket will normally show a penalty beside each offence. Most driving offences are penalized with a fine. Depending on the offence, you may also receive penalty points against your driver’s licence or not be allowed to drive for a certain time. (For how penalty points can affect the premiums you pay for car insurance, see our information on the points system and ICBC.)
You won’t be able to renew your car insurance or your driver's licence until you pay the fine or otherwise deal with the ticket.
If you don't want to fight the violation ticket, you can pay the fine. If you pay it, you don't have to go to court, but a conviction is entered against you.
There are many ways to pay traffic ticket fines: by phone, by mail, through your financial institution, at most Autoplan brokers and driver licensing offices, at government agent offices and court registries. See the ICBC website at icbc.com for details.
If you don’t fight the ticket within 30 days, you will be automatically convicted.
If you don’t pay the fine
If you don’t pay a fine, money to pay the fine can be taken out of your paycheck or bank account through a process called garnishment. You won’t be able to renew your driver's licence or car insurance until you pay the fine. The government might get a collection agency involved. Steps they take could hurt your credit rating.
You can dispute the ticket if you believe it was issued unfairly. You have 30 days from the violation date to dispute a ticket.
If you dispute the ticket, a hearing date will be set. The hearing is conducted by a judicial justice in what is often called Traffic Court. We explain the steps involved in disputing a ticket shortly.
If the justice finds you guilty at the hearing, they will normally fine you the same amount that is shown on the ticket. In some cases, they may increase the fine — for example, if you have a poor driving record. If you can show real financial hardship, they may reduce the fine unless the law sets a minimum fine for that offence.
You might also receive penalty points against your driver’s licence. If you are guilty, penalty points are automatic — you can’t fight them in court. You may also not be allowed to drive for a certain time.
You can dispute the amount of the fine, or ask for time to pay the fine, without going to court. You do so by filling out two forms available on the BC government website or at any court registry:
- a violation ticket notice of dispute form
- a violation ticket statement and written reasons
On the second form, explain the reasons you’re asking for a lower fine or more time to pay.
File both forms at the court registry. By doing this, you admit you are guilty of the offence on the violation ticket.
A judicial justice will look at your forms and make one of the following decisions, which is mailed to you:
- Not approve your request. Then you must pay the fine immediately.
- Reduce your fine. Then you must pay the reduced fine immediately.
- Give you time to pay. The decision will set out when you have to pay by.
- Reduce your fine and give you time to pay. The decision will set out the reduced amount and when you have to pay by.
The steps in the process
Check the ticket for instructions on how to dispute it. You must register your dispute within 30 days of getting the ticket.
You can dispute the ticket in person or by mail.
Or you can register your dispute by mail. You can use the notice of dispute form available on the BC government website. Or you can write a letter saying you are disputing the offence and attaching a copy of the violation ticket. Mail the material to:
Ticket Dispute Processing
Victoria, BC, V8W 3P7
A notice of hearing will be mailed to you with the date and location of your hearing. It may be several months before you receive the notice of hearing.
If you haven’t already done so, write notes about what happened. Make copies of any photos, maps or other documents you wish the court to consider.
Send the police a written request for a copy of all the information they have about the incident that resulted in the ticket, and the witnesses they intend to present in court (“the witnesses they intend to call”).
Prepare questions you may want to ask the police officer.
You must appear in person in court on the hearing date or have someone appear on your behalf.
At the hearing, the police officer and possibly other witnesses will tell the judicial justice what they think happened. You can do the same, by giving evidence.
The officer goes first because you are presumed to be innocent. The police must prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. If they provide no evidence or not enough evidence in the hearing, you will be found not guilty.
After you give your evidence, each of you and the officer have an opportunity to summarize your case. The justice then decides whether you are guilty.
If the justice finds you guilty, they decide on the appropriate penalty. You may ask for a lower fine (there are some fines a justice cannot reduce because a minimum fine is set by law). You may ask for time to pay. A justice cannot reduce any penalty points. In more serious cases, the justice may order you not to drive for a period of time.
Who can help
This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
Reviewed in May 2018
Time to read: 7 minutes