Traffic Offences and Traffic Violations are breaches of Provincial Legislation and do not result in a criminal record. However, certain traffic offences can result in very significant fines, lengthy driving suspensions, and, in some circumstances, jail.
The main governing legislation to be aware of in Alberta is the Traffic Safety Act. Apart from being charged directly under the provisions of this act, you may also be charged with breaching the Rules of the Road regulations. To determine if the offence you have been charged with has any demerits points attached to it, you may wish to consult the Demerit Point regulation.
What is the difference between Red and Yellow traffic tickets in Alberta?
Generally speaking, there are two types of tickets you may be issued. One is a red-coloured ticket, and the other is yellow. Yellow tickets have a specified fine listed on them, and may or may not have demerits associated with them. If you do not appear in court to address your yellow ticket, you will be convicted in your absence on the date indicated as your court appearance. As a result, you may incur steep fines and multiple demerit points. The penalty for non-attendance for red tickets is much worse. Ordinarily, red tickets indicate that your personal attendance is required because the penalty is not specified and can increase significantly depending on the circumstances. Failure to appear will result in a warrant being issued for your arrest, which can create embarrassment and extreme inconvenience when you do get arrested.
There are situations where the police will print a ticket, which is neither yellow, nor red. Inspect the ticket carefully to see if there is a specified fine listed on it, or whether that section is blank and there is an indication that your personal attendance is required. If in doubt, attend a registry or court to be sure, or call for legal assistance.
How do I know if I should hire a lawyer to help me with my traffic matter?
In general, the more serious the ticket or the consequences of the ticket, the more important it is for you to consider hiring a lawyer to help you deal with the ticket.
Some tickets are not very serious, and dealing with them probably does not require the assistance of a lawyer. For example, photo-radar tickets, parking tickets, and other “registered owner” offences carry no demerit points because they are issued to the registered owner of the vehicle and not to the driver. Also, they do not affect your driving record, your insurance rates, or, if the vehicle ticketed was a commercial vehicle, your National Safety Code Profile (or “Carrier Profile”). So, in these cases, your best course of action may be to fight the ticket on your own if you feel that you are not guilty of the offence or pay the fine if you are guilty of the offence. Of course, you may simply not have enough time to fight the ticket on your own, or you may be pre-occupied with other things. If so, we will happily assist you in fighting the ticket so that you do not have to worry about it.
Other tickets are much more serious. For example, there are seven demerit points attached to a conviction for failing to remain at the scene of an accident—the most of any offence in the Traffic Safety Act—and six demerit points attached to a conviction for racing, careless driving, failing to yield to a school bus, or exceeding the posted speed limit by more than 50 kph. Going more than 50kph over the limit will also typically result in a one-month license suspension. Your insurance rates could also increase drastically if you are convicted of any of these offences, sometimes by 50% or more. To make matters worse, if you are a fully licensed driver, and if you have accumulated 15 or more demerit points within a two-year period, your driver’s licence will be automatically suspended for one month. Graduated license (GDL) drivers are allowed even fewer demerit points. If you are a GDL driver, your license will automatically be suspended for one month if you have accumulated eight or more demerit points within a two-year period.
The fines for some tickets are also extremely high, even if there are no demerit points attached to them. If your vehicle is uninsured, for example, and you drive it or park it on any public or private road, alley, or parking lot, you may be charged with driving without Insurance. You will receive a minimum fine of $2,500 (plus a victim fine surcharge of $375) for a first offence and a mandatory jail term if you are charged a second time within one year. Subsequent offences result in escalating penalties. If you fail to pay the stated penalty within the time allotted, you will receive a jail sentence. The fines for commercial vehicle offences are often higher. For example, the fine for exceeding a posted weight restriction can be tens of thousands of dollars. This is because for every 100 kg a vehicle is over the posted limit, an extra $47 is added to the fine.
One of the most serious offences in the Traffic Safety Act is s. 94(2) driving while unauthorized. A person is an unauthorized driver if their operator’s license has been suspended or cancelled or if they are otherwise disqualified from driving in Alberta. If you are found guilty of driving while unauthorized, you will receive a maximum fine of $2000 and a six-month license suspension for a first offence and a jail sentence of no less than 14 days for a second offence.
You should contact us immediately to set up a free consultation if you have been issued a ticket for any of these offences, or if the ticket you were issued puts you at risk of losing your license. Should you retain us, we will review the evidence against you, appear in court on your behalf, negotiate with the Crown, and, if necessary, avidly defend you at trial. We have ample experience dealing with a wide range of traffic offences and have been able to secure favourable resolutions for our clients in the vast majority of cases.
You should also contact us if your license has been suspended and, as a result, you have been called to a hearing before the Transportation Safety Board. If you have an exceedingly poor driving record, or if you have received more than one suspension within a two-year period, you may be ordered to appear before the Board to explain why you deserve to have your license reinstated. We will guide you through this intimidating process and appear before the Board with you.
Should I hire a “Traffic Agent” instead of a lawyer—what’s the difference?
You may be tempted to hire a “traffic agent” or a “ticket fighter” to handle your traffic matter, but before doing so, you need to understand the difference. Traffic Agents, unlike lawyers, typically don’t (and need not) have a law degree. Indeed, they need not have any legal training at all. Unlike lawyers, traffic agents don’t have any obligation or duty to act in your best interest, and are not governed by any provincial Codes of Conduct. Many traffic agents are paralegals, and paralegals are not licensed or supervised by the Law Society of Alberta. Consequently, they are not subject to the same professional standards and scrutiny as lawyers.
By contrast, the Law Society of Alberta regulates the legal profession in Alberta, and does so in the public interest, by imposing and enforcing high standards of professional and ethical conduct by Alberta lawyers. In addition, lawyers have a duty to be competent to handle your legal matter; if they are not, they must refer you to a lawyer who is competent to handle the matter. In short, lawyers have extensive legal training and are subject to far more oversight than traffic agents,
Having explained the difference, there are certain situations where you may want to consider hiring a lawyer over an agent and vice versa. We find that the price of legal services is most often the determining factor for people. For most minor traffic offences, even if our lawyers could guarantee a favourable outcome it may still cost more in legal fees that it’s worth, and we frequently give this advice. For example, if you received a photo radar ticket and are looking to save even as much as a few hundred dollars, it is not worth hiring one of our lawyers to do so, because it would cost more than that to retain our services. There are many capable and competent agents who can do the job for basic offences like that just as well, for significantly less. Indeed, we have relationships with several well-established traffic agents in Alberta and would be happy to refer you accordingly. If your ticket(s) is significantly more serious, such that you are facing thousands of dollars in fines, risking losing your license, or there was an accident so significant civil liability is an issue, you should definitely contact us.
What should I do if I’ve been in an accident?
If you have been in an accident, you must remain at the scene of the accident or, if you have left the scene of the accident, immediately return to the scene unless otherwise directed by a peace officer. You must also report the accident. You must report the accident to the police from the scene of the accident if there are any injuries, if the damage is estimated to exceed $2,000, or if you are the victim of a hit and run. If there are no injuries, the vehicles are drivable, and the damage is estimated to be under $2000, the collision can be reported at any police district office. If you have been involved in an accident with a parked vehicle and cannot find the owner, leave your contact information on the windshield of the parked vehicle.
Although you are required to report an accident, you are not required to admit guilt, even if the accident was your fault. Do not admit anything to the police or the other driver(s). Even an apology can be interpreted as an admission of guilt. People who have been in accidents occasionally admit guilt at the roadside or on the collision report, if only inadvertently. If you have been in an accident you should contact us immediately. Liability can often hinge on the outcome of the associated traffic charge when an accident occurs, so it is important to guard against self-incrimination. We will assist you in crafting a collision statement that is not self-incriminating.
What do I do if I failed to attend for my court date?
If you fail to respond to an offence notice violation ticket on or before the date specified on the front of the ticket, most likely one of two things happened. For a yellow or specified fine ticket, you were likely convicted in your absence. Moreover, a warrant may be issued for your arrest for non-payment of the fine. In such circumstances, it is imperative to contact us as soon as you discover you have been convicted because there is a very short window for overturning such a conviction, and the clock starts running from the moment you found out about the conviction. We can quickly determine if your conviction can be set aside. If it can, we will go to court for you to have it set aside and start working on the case anew.
For a red, or mandatory court attendance ticket, failure to respond to the ticket or attend for court likely resulted in a warrant being issued for your arrest. This does not mean you were found guilty, but rather that the ticket is waiting for you to be arrested and released with a new date to attend court and deal with it. In such a situation, we can assist you in finding out if a warrant has been issued for your arrest. If a warrant has been issued for your arrest, we will assist you in having the warrant executed in a way that is minimally intrusive for you. We can then start attending court on your behalf, and working to resolve the ticket to your satisfaction.