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Should you pay a traffic ticket or fight it? How both options will impact your insurance

May 12, 2022
4 mins
A man and woman looked concerned at paperwork as they sit at a table

At some point during your time as a driver, you might receive a traffic ticket, be it for running a red light, speeding, or some other offence. In Ontario, according to the Highway Traffic Act, traffic tickets can range from $5 for “no sleigh bells” (if you’re travelling on a highway via sleigh drawn by a horse or other animal) to $600 for “Fail to yield to pedestrian — community safety zone.”

In the province, there are three options: you can pay the ticket, ask for a resolution meeting with the prosecutor to ask for a reduced penalty, or go to trial.

When faced with a low fine, your first thought might be to just pay it and get it over and done with. But Yigal Bendgi, a licensed paralegal in Toronto, says that all tickets should be disputed.

“Any time you have any legal dispute of any nature, you always have the right to first review the evidence or the case against you,” he says. Some officers take good notes while others don’t, so it’s always in your best interest to file for a court date.

If you’re planning on fighting your ticket, hiring a legal expert such as a paralegal can help. They have the knowledge to use all the available tactics and defenses to help you. Bendgi says hiring legal help for minor traffic offences can cost between $300 and $500.

If you lose, you may end up paying a higher fine than the original. That’s one reason to consider using professional help. Keep in mind that legal professionals cannot promise or guarantee a win in court.

What happens if you pay the fine

He explains that by just paying the fine, the client waives the right to a trial and the conviction is immediately entered and registered on their driving record and with the Ministry of Transportation. It stays on a driver’s record for three years from the conviction date. The ministry can then impose any penalties on the driver as defined by the Highway Act.

A conviction on a driving record may increase your insurance premiums, depending on the severity of the traffic violation, the insurance company, your policy and your driving recording. Some companies may waive a premium hike if it’s a first-time, minor offence, or if you have an endorsement like minor conviction protection.

A more severe violation, like distracted driving, often leads to an automatic premium increase of up to 23%, depending on your province.

Fines can include demerit points but they don’t affect insurance premiums. In Ontario, the demerit system is there to determine who gets to have a driver’s licence. If a driver gets too many demerits, usually up to 15, their licence may be suspended for up to 30 days and that can affect their insurance premium.

What happens if you fight the ticket

Even if you think you’re guilty, Bendgi says it’s worth fighting the ticket. “Let’s say you renew your insurance in March,” he says. “And you just got a traffic ticket two months before the renewal. If you pay it now, that conviction is entered prior to your renewal.”

He says if your insurance provider audits you before sending your renewal package, they’ll flag the conviction on your record, which could lead to an increase in your premium. However, if you fight it, the trial is usually set at a later date and the insurance company can’t do anything until the matter is convicted by way of payment and an admission of guilt. It’s only at the next renewal that your premium may go up.

There’s also the long-term value of fighting tickets. Let’s say you choose to pay the ticket but don’t experience an insurance hike — you never know what may happen with your future driving actions. If you get another traffic ticket and you already have a conviction on your record, a different insurance company could charge you a higher premium because now there’s a history.

It can feel like a hassle to fight traffic tickets, especially when they’re a tiny amount and it costs more to hire legal help, but the long-term benefits of having a clean driving record means a lower auto insurance premium.

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Renee Sylvestre-Williams

Renee Sylvestre-Williams is a finance and business reporter. In her more than 10 years of journalism, her work has been published in the Globe and Mail, Flare, Canadian Living, Canadian Business, the Toronto Star and Forbes. She also publishes a biweekly newsletter, The Budgette, where she provides financial education for single earners.

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