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How to fight a speeding or parking ticket and win

 

Getting parking and traffic tickets is no fun. Your initial reaction may be to pay them to get it over with, but putting some time and effort into fighting them may be worth your while.

Although traffic and parking offences are handled differently across the country, many key aspects are similar. Here's a look at how you can legally reduce the money you pay, as well as the demerit points you risk, for parking and traffic tickets.

Be courteous
One of the first steps you can take after you realize you're getting a ticket is to try to reason with the officer issuing you the ticket.

"Police officers have discretion to give a warning or issue a ticket," says Const. Tim Fanning of the Vancouver Police Department. "If you have a reasonable explanation for why you committed a traffic infraction, then you can try to explain it to the officer.

"When dealing with police officers, treat them with respect, like you would anyone else. It will certainly help your excuse get heard," says Fanning.

"It is not uncommon for people to attempt to offer their version of what occurred while receiving a ticket," says Insp. Mark Chatterbok of the Saskatoon Police Service. However, he suggests using the court system. "This is where the person will be able to provide his or her side of the story to an impartial third party, and then a decision will be made as to the guilt or innocence of the person, based on the evidence of all parties involved."

Go to court
Word on the street is that if you go to court to contest your ticket, you have a very good chance of having the fine, and any demerit points, reduced. If you're lucky, the officer who gave you the ticket will be a no-show, and your case will be dismissed.

Jason Graham, of Toronto, recently got an $85 ticket for going 71 km/h in a 50-km/h zone. As the officer was giving him the ticket, he suggested that Graham go to court and talk about a reduction. Graham was more concerned about the three demerit points than the money -- he'd received a speeding ticket two years earlier and didn't realize he had accumulated demerit points until he got his driver's abstract a year later.

Graham took the officer's advice and booked an appointment to fight his ticket. After a long wait, he met with a Crown attorney who explained the charge and asked if he wanted to make a resolution. She said she could offer Graham 65 km/h in a 50-km/h zone, which carries no points and a fine of about $55.

Graham then had to wait to go before a judge. The Crown attorney instructed him to plead not guilty to the original offence and then guilty to the reduced offence. He wasn't even asked for an explanation (although some people are). "I think that the punishment is the waiting," says Graham -- the whole process took about three hours.

If you don't have the time to make it to court, consider paying someone else to go in your place.

Hire someone to fight your ticket
There are many companies you can pay to represent you in traffic court. The way it usually works is that you pay the company a fixed rate (typically between $200 and $500), and the company handles the leg work for you.

Manuel Torres, of Toronto's Stop All Traffic Tickets, says fighting a traffic ticket is more like fighting demerit points than the actual fine. Not only can demerit points and traffic convictions affect the cost of your insurance, but they can also get your licence suspended.

Torres says if you don't have a reason why you shouldn't have been issued the ticket, then you should plead guilty and try to make a deal with the prosecutor. "The minute you plead guilty, [the judge sees that] you recognize that you made a mistake," he says. And if you don't make a lot of these mistakes, there's a good chance the judge will be sympathetic.

Think about your insurance
Each insurance companies operates differently, but depending on the frequency and the severity of traffic offences, your car insurance might increase.

Eve Patterson, Ontario's regional manager for the Insurance Bureau of Canada, says one fairly common procedure is for insurers to add a 25-per cent surcharge to a driver's insurance costs for more than two or three minor convictions in a three-year period. (Running a red light and speeding less than 16 km/h over the speed limit are considered minor convictions.)

The increase lasts three years, so, if you were paying $3,000 a year for insurance, the surcharge would see you pay an extra $2,250 in a three-year period. And that makes paying a traffic ticket specialist to help fight your convictions a much cheaper option.

Pay up
For parking tickets, some jurisdictions will let you pay less than the full fine if you pay within a certain amount of time. The City of Toronto, for example, has a voluntary payment system for parking tickets, whereby if you pay within seven days of receiving a ticket, you only need to fork over about two-thirds or three-quarters of the fine. If you aren't contesting the ticket, then paying early is definitely the cheapest option.

If you decide to pay, then you can do it in person or by mail, and you may even be able to pay over the phone or the Internet. Some cities have their own websites set up that allow you to pay online, or you can see if your city is listed on the Paytickets.ca website. Paying online can be great because you don't have to worry about getting somewhere to pay in person. Unfortunately, with Paytickets.ca, there is a service charge of $1.50 for each parking ticket and $3 for other types of offences.

Maya Saibil is a writer in Toronto.

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