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According to Justice, unpaid fines are hard to collect because the people who owe them may have unpublished cellphone numbers, no fixed address, are in jail or have no job or credit history.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:
Source: Department of Justice