Road laws aren’t working

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Just before noon, police stopped a 33-year-old impaired driver, charging him with a breach of court orders and several offences under the Highway Traffic Act. Officers also discovered the man was wanted under an outstanding warrant and owed over $8,000 in fines. His vehicle was impounded and he is in custody awaiting a court appearance. (that’s from VOCM news, June 10).

Reports of impaired drivers being pulled over by police have virtually become part of our daily breakfast diet in recent years, to the point we hardly raise an eyebrow anymore.

A few months ago, one rainy day, with nothing much else to do and likely subliminally motivated by a breakfast news report of yet another impaired driver stopped, ticketed, court-appearance date mandated, and then — the almost invariable closer — that the driver already owed the province many thousands of dollars for previous outstanding fines, I Googled “Outstanding impaired driving fines in NL.”

I spent some time reading through the repetitive reports, i.e., individuals pulled over by police, impaired, ticketed, then the unbelievable section — the unpaid fines. Impaired drivers in this province collectively owe many hundreds of thousands of dollars. How does that get to happen, repeatedly, the fines allowed to balloon, seemingly without followup or redress?

What’s the problem, the province can’t find a use for the money? It doesn’t have the man-power to track down these seemingly elusive offenders? Solution: from the moneys garnered from the collection of outstanding fines, hire a few special constables to track-down and provide the outstanding fine offenders a date with a special temporary court/payment office at Fort Townshend. This office, if necessary, should be empowered to attach wages or other sources of income, and/or otherwise provide for arrest and jail time. These special measures should pay for themselves, from fines collected.

If nothing is done about these “nose-thumbing” instances of this province’s laws by impaired drivers, one is moved to ask, who or what part of our justice system is to blame? Again, if our justice system has no appetite to collect on these outstanding fines, perhaps it would be open to turning the responsibilities over to a charitable collective which could most certainly use the money; and/or simply “out” the offenders by publishing their names in a special monthly section of The Telegram, and on the radio stations.

In any event, however it’s done, these drivers — blatant death threats, that’s what they are — should be removed from our roads and dealt with in the courts. Jail time should be doled out liberally, at the very least.

If there is no recognizable attempt to do so, the finger should be pointed at this province’s minister of justice; the responsibility-buck and shame stop there. If laws need to adjusted, do it, please. Current laws are not working efficiently, as demonstrated. Impaired drivers are being pulled in virtually every day, but in this instance, we are more specifically speaking about the previously convicted drunks who are not getting the message.

Coincidently, as I close this letter, June 16, VOCM just reported that police have nabbed another high-fines driver after a single-vehicle accident in St. John’s centre the previous night. A subsequent investigation showed the accused owes $22,000 in outstanding fines. Need I say any more?

Ronald Tizzard writes from Paradise.

Geographic location: NL

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  • Skeptical Cynic
    June 30, 2013 - 09:52

    One way to deal with this problem is to make jail time for outstanding fines mandatory. The critics will say that doen't gaurantee the culprit will pay the fine, however, that is not the intent of the mandatory jail term. The intent is DETERRENT. So if these culprits allow their fine to go over a certain amount , they automatically receive a mandatory jail term, say 90 days for every $1K owed in fines, with the option to buy their way out early if they can cough up the dough. The other skeets see one of their own thrown in jail, and not at the potato farm either, right down to Quidi Vidi into HMP with'em for the whole term... THEN they'll think twice about not paying off their fines.

  • Doug Smith
    June 28, 2013 - 09:15

    “Blatant death threats, that’s what they are…” is exactly right. The current laws ignore this fact and are useless in stopping impaired driving. However, there is a simple and effective way to put an end to this dangerous behaviour. Confiscate the vehicle of the impaired driver whether he owns it or not and don’t allow him to get it back, ever. Soon these drivers will run out of vehicles to drive. Doug Smith, Grand Falls-Windsor

  • Patrick
    June 28, 2013 - 07:52

    A fair comment David...drip, drip, drip....it paints a reality picture for sure! Why doesn't government care?

  • Townie
    June 27, 2013 - 20:00

    I say very few of these high fines are inflated because of late fines and interest. Most of these people are low income and can not afford to pay off the original fine in time before compound interest racks it up to the tens of thousands. When it gets so high they feel weighed down so much they just try to fly under the radar. On the other hand, those who drive big flashy look at me SUVs can pay off the original fine in a day without the compound interest and late fines. So, these stories of the RNC being heros pulling these drivers over is really not as glourious as they sound since they are only kicking someone who is already down and out. The justice system really needs to improve the way they handle interest and fines and come up with some long term equal payments system.

    • Eli
      June 28, 2013 - 09:06

      Perhaps driving with insurance, driving sober, and within speed limits might just prevent these irresponsible drivers from getting in trouble in the first placed.

    • Ron Tizzard
      June 29, 2013 - 14:12

      Townie, I hear you...you have a heart; but, that said, there was no information provided that I noticed indicating why the debts were not paid, or even attempted to be paid. I don't know; but my sense is that if an 'offender' were to request a reasonable payment plan to pay off the debt that discuss would likely take place. A good question to ask the Police i.e. are attempts made by these people at all, or are they just ignored; and would the police be open to 'payment plans' for settle debts? Maybe somebody in Justice will answer the question for you...you can bet they are reading this article. Let's. You pose a practical question .

  • david
    June 27, 2013 - 06:55

    Tracking down the outstanding money would be great, no doubt. It truly must amount to a few million dollars. But the primary problem here is not the financial windfall foregone. The problem here is the complete debacle that is the basic act of driving in Newfoundland. The chances of being hit by an unlicensed, uninsured, unregistered, and/or drunk driver are nothing short of horrendous in this province. I would quite confidently guess it would be the worst on North America. And by a wide margin. But that "statistic" is not ever going to be calculated or released.....no one in government would ever tell you, because it would rightly lead to class action lawsuits against the government for allowing the situation to exist ---- out of pure negligence. This potential liability facing the government is just as real as, and potentially much larger than, the uncollected, outstanding fines are. But every day, the reports are just drip, drip, drip......