Deadbeat drivers owe millions in fines

Barb Sweet
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RNC traffic services officer Const. Ken Milks speaks to motorists during a roadside stop recently. — Telegram photo illustration/file photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

Lately, the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (RNC) has been nabbing motorists who owe thousands in unpaid fines — no surprise considering the millions of dollars that go uncollected.

Accompanying the unpaid fines are charges of driving without a valid licence, registration or insurance, because you have to pay tickets and fines before you can obtain those documents.

The RNC reports catching motorists, sometimes on a daily basis, who owe tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid motor vehicle fines.

About $28.7 million is owed for driving-related offences across the province as of Dec. 31, 2010, including surcharges and pe-nalties.

The total fines outstanding — including surcharges and pe-nalties — from tickets issued by the RNC in St. John’s alone was $16.9 million as of Jan. 31.

Some of those fines date back to the 1980s, a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice said.

The number of collection officers was increased to eight in 2008, from three. Until 2003, there was only one collection officer.

Also, the fines adminstration division has an agreement with the Canada Revenue Agency, all-owing refunds and GST rebates to be garnished for unpaid fines.

That resulted in a whopping increase in the money collected — $866,843 for fiscal year 2010 compared to $3,992 in 2009.

Already this year, about $848,948 has been collected.

According to Justice, unpaid fines are hard to collect because the people who owe them may have unpublished cellphone numbers, no fixed address, are in jail or have no job or credit history. Then there are people who marry or divorce and change their names.

The province has changed the Highway Traffic Act and the Provincial Offences Act so that the courts can incarcerate people who repeatedly drive with no licence, insurance or registration.

And RNC officers can now hold for court motorists who have outrageous outstanding fines, as a result of Bill 27, an amendment to the Highway Traffic Act passed by the legislature in October 2010. Prior to that, police could only issue another summary offence ticket.

The amended bill also allows police to conduct traffic safety stops essentially without cause.


RNC spokeswoman Const. Suzanne FitzGerald said the Supreme Court of Canada in 1990 underscored the importance of traffic safety stops as a way to combat drunk driving, unfit vehicles and drivers operating without licences, vehicle permits and insurance.

The case upheld an Ontario law, and said “the statistics relating to the carnage on the highways substantiate a pressing and substantial concern which the government was properly addressing through the legislation in question and the random stops. A more specific aspect of this concern related to areas where the probability of accidents can be reduced:  the mechanical fitness of the vehicle, the possession of a valid licence and proper insurance and the sobriety of the driver. They are directly pertinent to the question of random stopping.”

FitzGerald said since the new amendment came into affect in this province, just one of four street patrol platoons from October to December 2010 nabbed 37 drivers owing a total of $330,500 in outstanding fines. All of them were male.

The RNC seized 17 vehicles and detained 16 drivers for court. Seven impaired drivers were caught in the random traffic stops during that period.

There was no insurance on 23 vehicles, some had false plates and some motorists had outstanding warrants, Fitzgerald said. One man was arrested for possession of stolen property.

Sixteen of those motorists had no driver’s licence. Nineteen had suspended driver’s licences.

“It’s not just the Highway Traffic Act,” FitzGerald said. 

“We’re getting the impaired drivers. To the RNC, it’s an additional resource, an additional investigative tool we can use that is showing up in such a short period of time in three months. For one platoon to be able to show those types of results shows that it is working and the RNC is taking impaired drivers off the roadway, which is what the legislation intended in the first place.”

The first offence for driving without insurance is a $2,300 fine and six driver’s abstract demerit points.

Second and subsequent offences result in a $3,450 fine and another six demerit points.

• Fine figures

Top five totals of outstanding driving-related fines by individual motorists in the province as of November 2010:

1. $49,636

2. $44,556

3. $44,476

4. $44,336

5. $41,246

Source: Department of Justice

Organizations: RNC, Department of Justice, Canada Revenue Agency Supreme Court of Canada

Geographic location: Ontario

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Recent comments

  • Justin
    July 11, 2013 - 20:24

    i have too admit im one of the young guys who has out stand fines. im only 23 I got the fines and cant afford too pay them off even with minimum payments each month. I admit im young and stupid but im also learning from my mistakes. my current fines owing is around 4 grand. and im getting letters in the mail threating me basically saying I have 60 days to come up with the full amount or they will repo my property and what not. its crazy , but if they came up with this community service thing id gladly do that after work until fines were worked off. I think its completely outrageous how the law works. I try and avoid by it now. I cant afford anymore fines. without a license it affects my chances of getting a good job.

  • yo mama
    February 17, 2011 - 20:59

    Whip them like they do in civilized countries, no more illegal drivers....guaranteed.

  • Stund
    February 17, 2011 - 14:11

    I really think that if these people make "mistakes" as we all do and have fines, STOP DRIVING AND GETTING MORE FINES! A normal person would realize they owe $2000 in fines and work to pay it off before going out carelessly and illegally and getting more and more. It's not "oh poor me" it's "you don't care"!! Oh yah, if someone gets to work off their fines, can I work off my student loan or mortage? It's both debt!!

  • Paul
    February 17, 2011 - 13:52

    I am a Newfoundlander wintering in Florida ! As my wife and i were out for a stroll one day,we noticed a van pull in just ahead of us . We noticed a young man exit the van and proceed to change the garbage bag in a city owned recepticle.We both immediately saw that he was wearing an orange and white striped uniform. A couple of days later i came across a city employee and he informed me that guy in stripes was a prisoner doing community service.Since then i have noticed on numerous occasions works gangs of prisoners doing labour work in all parts of the city.Maybe this should be practiced in our society ,maybe then people would think twice about committing an offence !

  • I owed fines
    February 17, 2011 - 11:27

    As a person who did stupid things as a youth(16), I too owed 15 hundred dollars for driving without licence and insurance. The fines prevented me from getting my licence when I was legal too. By that time I couldn't afford too pay the fines and i could not get my licence. I was 30 yrs old before I payed my fines and got the licence. People that owe fines should be given a chance to make up for their mistake and get on the right track other wise they will continue to make that mistake and owe fines. Once your in its hard too get out!

  • superstu
    February 17, 2011 - 11:00

    Hey all i have no fines , I pay em , never went without insurance in my life, i thought that stuff was a no brainer. But I do think we pay way to much for registration, vechile renewal, licence renewal etc. I just came from living in Edmonton and it was 70 bucks to register and plate and 10 year old vechile and my license was something like 20 or 30 bucks. Now I know it is the oil rich Edmonton but being a have a province like we are do we have to get taxed to death? When we live on a island we pay enough worked into the cost of everthing else for shipping . I know when I go to motor registration i always leave empty pocketed. May if costs weren't so high some of these people could pay fines.

  • woodswoman
    February 17, 2011 - 10:53

    Make them shovel the streets until they have worked off their fines. Lots of places to walk then too lol

  • Brad
    February 17, 2011 - 10:16

    Sending people to jail is costing tax payers money as unpaid fines cost us nothing. Why should we support people in jail for unpaid fines it just seems redundant.

  • Anon
    February 17, 2011 - 10:03

    to "GOOD GOD": The "lowlife degenerates" who refuse to do community service OR pay the fines should be thrown in jail. The thing is, a lot of them aren't degenerates and would be more than happy to put their traffic violations behind them in any way possible, which for some of them simply doesn't include paying the fines. At the very least the government should stop adding interest on fines that these people cant even pay to begin with. Like I said, you cant get blood from a stone. Government puts a ridiculous amount of interest on these fines. A few parking tickets can easily blow up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars when the person doesn't pay on time. It simply isn't productive to do this. It accomplishes nothing, because they just cant pay it. When someone owes tens of thousands of dollars in fines I can guarantee you that the vast majority of it is interest. Let them opt for community service and get on with their lives. Sure, some of them won't do either, but a lot of them will, and that's better than nothing. Government shouldn't be trying to kick people when they're down over a few parking tickets.

  • flexxa
    February 17, 2011 - 09:53

    ...sending them to jail costs the system even more money. Hand them over the private collection agencies - Gov't will get back 75% of what's owed and these private agencies who want to get their 25% will make their lives hell. We used them for our private business and the clients eventually all paid - they just couldn't take it anymore. 75% is better than nothing. Also if these outstanding fines are "convictions" publish the names - shame them - that works too.

  • stund
    February 17, 2011 - 09:46

    They are breaking the law!! WHERE IS THE JUSTICE!?!? I pay my insurance and pay my sticker cost at Motor Vehicle yet I don't know why, because technically I could go out and drive around town and build up fines, it don't matter, I will still be able to drive and oh yah, poor me can't afford it. SELL THE CAR TO HELP PAY SOME FINES!!!

  • foxy
    February 17, 2011 - 09:40

    How many people have gone to jail because of unpaid fines ? NONE !!!! Just love our court system.

    • arc
      April 11, 2014 - 12:53

      Actually some of these guys do 6 months in jail and also have a 5000 to 10000 thousand dollar fine. While murders get 5 to 7 years in jail get out and have there license all there rights reinstated how is this fair. I'm from Alberta its jail or fine not both.

  • willijon
    February 17, 2011 - 09:34

    Please tell me how long it would take for our government to pass legislation whereby if you are ticketed, you have 24 hours in which to pay the fine, otherwise your license is suspended and your car impounded.

  • Good God
    February 17, 2011 - 09:19

    to ANON: you expect these lowlife degenerates to do Community service? I doubt any of them or their families have actually even worked since welfare was invented.

  • Dave from Mt Pearl
    February 17, 2011 - 09:19

    The amount of fines owing is quite large , remember those listed are only the top five and added, add up to a little less than quarter of a million.approximately 28 million owing.Putting these people in jail to an equivalent of time served for money owing is counter productive as it costs a certain amount to house each person per day so therefore we have a cost added to the already amount owed.These people should be held in jail and put to work at the rate of minimum wage clearing sidewalks,brush,picking up garbage etc. American style work teams.They should remain in jail for the period of time until the outstanding fines , room and board are balanced.Could take a long time but look at the employment and value added service that these work prisoners would be adding to society,sort of a pay back for all that they have taken over the years.

  • Calvin
    February 17, 2011 - 09:18

    I think you are missing the point here guys, really. Sure some these people have minimum wage jobs. The first offence they decided not to pay may have been a couple hundred dollars. If they had payed that first one, all subsequent fines would never have happened. If they cant afford insurance, they shouldnt be driving. The point here is not that they will never be able to pay the fines, the point is it never should have come to this point. I wonder if you were hit by a driver with no licence, registration or insurance and they couldnt pay for damage done to your car, loss of wages due to injury, medical bills, etc. would you be as quick to say let them off with it. And as for saying these fines line governments pockets, that is a typical reply from people who dodge taxes, break the law and commit the kind of offenses mentioned in this article. I would be willing to bet that at least one of the people who comment negatively on this article owe a couple thousand dollars in traffic fines. These fines help pay for road work, police wages, traffic lights, road signs, etc. not a steak dinner for some politician. Registration costs around $125, renewal of licence costs about $100, public liability insuarnce for "minimum wage" vehicles is about $100 a month. Are you telling me it is not worth paying these minimal costs to prevent the accumulation of $40 000 in traffic fines? Give me a break.

  • Bill
    February 17, 2011 - 09:17

    The 5 individuals listed with excess of 40K in fines should be in jail! And for others stopped and found to be in arrears of tickets, just take the car and sell it.

    • CCHNL
      February 17, 2011 - 09:50

      I know of people who are driving around with no license, insurance or registration, and have been doing so for months, and sometimes driving after having a few drinks. I have tried to report them but they are still driving. Minimum wage or not, if you can't afford to legally keep a car on the road, then do without it one. What if you do have an accident? I have always had my own car, and I drive it legally. I drive a taxi too, so my license and driving record have to be valid, and in good standing. I bought an older truck this past fall, and since I have started using it I get pulled over every week to 3 weeks, usually either between Needs on Freshwater Rd and Stockwoods on Freshwater Rd, or downtown. Do the RNC not keep record of who they are pulling over? I have insurance, a valid drivers license, my vehicle is registered, and I don't drink and drive. I'd like them to stop wasting my time.

  • Driving Miss Daisy
    February 17, 2011 - 08:58

    It is fine to decriminalize all these people who are driving while owing such outrageuos amounts of money, until one of them injures you in an accident and they have no insurance. Leaving you unable to work, injured for life or something much worse. Then what are you going to do????

  • Anon
    February 17, 2011 - 08:30

    There should be a community service option for paying driving/parking fines. Sure, there are some "deadbeat" drivers out there, but then there are also some decent people who made a mistake and simply cant afford to pay these tickets. You can't get blood from a stone. The fact that some of these people are driving for years, decades even without valid licenses suggests that they are not all dangerous drivers, they are flying under the radar. If people had the option to pay their debt through community service rather than pay fines I can promise you that a lot of people would go for it rather than risk losing their vehicles and hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars which many of them simply don't have to begin with. Some people on the other hand have less free time than money and would still opt to pay the fine. Those with no money would opt for community service, they simply cant pay the fines. Of course this makes too much sense. Traffic fines, like most other things, are more about lining government's pockets than they are about "justice". The government is more than happy to impound and sell your vehicle if it means more cash in the coffers.

  • David Wilson
    February 17, 2011 - 08:29

    9 chances out of 10 these people have a minimum wage job or no job at all. How does the system think that these indivuduals will get back on track to pay such exorbient fines. The real problem here is the system. If you can't pay the fines, send them to jail based on the amount to fines owed. $10k is a year in jail, $25k is two year...etc. Something has to change with the system. This is where the real story is here. It is worth a Telegram follow-up.

  • james
    February 17, 2011 - 08:27

    can anyone say police state