Traffic Tickets and Limitation Periods

I receive a number of calls from clients who have been involved in accidents, or who have fled from police and who are later given a ticket by the police. It is not uncommon for officers to show up on someone’s doorstep and serve them with a traffic ticket for something that happened days, weeks, or even months earlier. Most of these clients have questions about disputing these tickets, and questions about whether the police are entitled to serve a ticket after the fact, or for something they did not observe.

This blog post attempts to answer those questions.

The officer didn’t see me driving
This is a common issue that arises in traffic court cases. If the officer did not see you driving that does not mean that he or she is prevented from issuing you a traffic ticket. The officer is entitled to act on information and belief, and is entitled to issue a ticket to to the registered owner of the vehicle. The Motor Vehicle Act sets out in Section 83 the liability of an owner for actions done with their vehicle. I always ask clients who are issued tickets from an officer who did not see them driving to check the ticket very carefully. It will say whether the person is charged as driver or owner.

Those who are charged as owner have only two defences: that the person who drove the vehicle did not have permission to drive it; or that the owner exercised reasonable care and diligence in entrusting the vehicle to the driver. If you are charged as owner and you were driving, you have no defence. If you were charged as owner and you were sitting in the passenger seat, you have a pretty weak defence. But tickets issued to owners, as opposed to drivers, do not carry any driver penalty points and do not result in a conviction on the driving record of the owner.

If you were charged as the driver, but the officer did not witness driving, then you may have a strong defence to the ticket. Not always, however. Oftentimes there are civilian witnesses who have reported bad driving and can identify the driver, or witnesses to collisions with whom you exchanged your information. These witnesses can be brought to court by police to establish that you were driving and to provide the evidence in support of the ticket you were issued. In my experience, once the officer has the civilian witness in court they are emboldened with confidence. They also do not want to back away from the ticket and risk embarrassment. At these times, an experienced traffic or driving lawyer is your best defence.

The third most common situation in which clients have been issued tickets when the officer does not witness driving is following an accident. Most people admit to the police that they were driving, and provide some description of how the accident happened. This is especially the case in single vehicle accidents. The police are entitled to rely on the admissions as the basis to issue a ticket. However, proving the case in court becomes more complex. Statements made by a person to the police are only admissible if the police can prove they were made voluntarily. There are some nuanced legal issues pertaining to statements following collisions. Moreover, many officers are not familiar with the process by which those statements become admissible. Again, an experienced driving lawyer like me can help you keep any statements you made to police out of court.

The officer gave me the ticket days, weeks, or months later
Traffic tickets are offences because of the Offence Act. There is a general limitation period for all offences under the Motor Vehicle Act to be charged within one year of the date the incident occurred. This means the officer can wait 364 days before issuing you a ticket for speeding, if he or she decides they want to do that. The vast majority of tickets are issued at the time of the incident, but there is no defence to a ticket to say that the officer gave it to you after the fact, unless it was more than a year after the fact.

That said, traffic tickets that are issued to a driver some time after the fact are usually done so for a reason. So there are often good defences in these cases that will result in success in traffic court, with the right defence strategy.

Disputing a ticket given to you more than 30 days after the incident
Another misconception about traffic tickets is that they must be disputed within 30 days of the date of the driving incident. This is not the case. Although there is a 30 day limitation period to dispute a traffic ticket, the clock on that limitation period does not start ticking until 30 days after the date the ticket is served on you. So you still can dispute a ticket that is given to you more than 30 days after the driving incident, but you also still must do so within 30 days of the date it was given to you.

If you miss the time to dispute a ticket, do not fret. There are options. In a future blog post, I will explain the different options available to you if you miss your time to dispute the ticket or you miss your court date for your traffic ticket.

The officer gave me the ticket at my house
The Motor Vehicle Act is limited in many respects to offences that occur on highways or industrial roads. For example, only certain provisions of the Motor Vehicle Act apply on Forest Service Roads. Some parking lots are not considered roads and the Motor Vehicle Act does not apply. The same goes for driveways and other private places. But the same is not true for where a peace officer can serve you with a ticket. They are entitled to come to your home, your place of work, or anywhere else you might be found to serve you with the ticket.

Nor is it a defence to argue that the police unlawfully entered your property to serve you with the ticket. There is, at common law, an implied right to knock and approach. There is a significant difference between knocking on a person’s door to sniff out marijuana and for the valid purposes of serving a Violation Ticket and charging the individual with an offence. You have, of course, the right not to answer the door and the police will have to find some other means to serve you.

Which brings me to the next issue.

I received a summons to court in the mail for a driving incident
Traffic tickets do not have to proceed by way of the officer personally serving them on a driver or owner. Instead, the Offence Act allows a peace officer to forward charges to the provincial prosecutors and have the matter proceed by summons. This is rarely used, but is most often employed in situations where the officer cannot serve you.

If you receive such a summons, it is important to contact a lawyer and discuss the matter. There are also many instances in which the police proceed this way because there has been an injury or a death that has occurred as a result of a driving incident. You may not always know whether this has happened at the roadside (particularly in hit and run scenarios) and so you should never assume that this does not relate to something very serious. The Offence Act sets out a maximum penalty of a $2000 fine or 6 months in jail, or both. If someone has been badly injured or been killed because of a mistake in your driving, the prosecutor may be seeking jail time.

Never assume someone has not been injured or killed. Brain bleeds, for example, may be fatal and may not be detected at the roadside. Adrenaline can mask the symptoms of serious injuries. You should treat any summons you receive as very serious.

It is important to respond to the summons. Unlike a ticket that is served on you, you do not need to do anything to get a court date. If you do nothing with a regular traffic ticket or you miss your court date then you’ll be convicted and owe ICBC the fine amount. If you do nothing after receiving a summons and you will miss your court date, a warrant can be issued for your arrest. You can then face further charges under the Criminal Code for failing to appear for court. This can result in you having a criminal record, if convicted. You must take a summons very seriously, because if you do not you can end up with a very serious consequence.

What to do if you get a traffic ticket
The best advice I can give anyone who receives a ticket is to contact a knowledgeable and experienced driving lawyer. Many lawyers, including myself, offer free consultations and will happily discuss your case with you and explain your options. If something about your ticket seems unusual, then you should absolutely be speaking with a lawyer before you decide what to do. The last thing you want is to miss out on an opportunity to defend your case because you did not realize something was defective in the officer’s evidence, case, or manner of serving the ticket to you.

21 thoughts on “Traffic Tickets and Limitation Periods”

  1. I’ve disputed a bunch of recent and past tickets I received. I haven’t received any court dates and was wondering if there is a stature of limitations for time for them book the court date.

  2. Hi Amin,
    Yes and no. There’s no limitation period set out in any statute. However, recently the Supreme Court of Canada put an outside ceiling of 18 months on any charge to get to court and be completed. This only applies to cases going forward from the decision, and cases predating that decision are assessed in a different fashion. Give me a call at 604-685-8889 and we can talk about your tickets and when you got them, and whether we can do anything regarding delay.

  3. I received a standard speeding violation (20kms over) in BC in 2011 and didn’t address it. I’m from Sask and the car I was driving (also registered in Sask) wasn’t registered in my name, although with Saskatchewan registration it doesn’t have to be. I spent the next 5 years out of country and never received any correspondence. I’ve been back for about 2 years now and recently moved to Alberta. I had collections contact me yester stating that ICBC got my contact info and has sent them after me for $175.00 as of lat Friday.
    I don’t understand why ICBC, whom I’ve never had a policy with is pursuing me for payment? I’d rather not pay, but I don’t want this to affect my credit score so I’m willing to, but on the other hand will that make my insurance premiums go up if the incident occurred 7 years ago? What’s the statute of limitations on a traffic violation?
    Thanks for your advice Kyla!

  4. I received a ticket for distracted driving on August 2 of 2017 I was not given a court date until Aug 31 I saw soon literature that a case was dismissed because you have the right in B.C. To have a court date within one year is that the case?
    Thank you Murray Savard

  5. Hi Murray,
    The Supreme Court of Canada set a ceiling of 18 months for these types of cases, so one year is not too late unless there are exceptional circumstances.

  6. In December 2017, my son got a ticket in Fort St John for using his phone while driving. After receiving the ticket he discovered that the officer wrote the wrong offence date on the ticket. He wrote October and not December. My son also discovered that the officer wrote his date of birth down wrong on the ticket. He tried to dispute the ticket but was told the thirty day period was up and could could no longer dispute it (because the issue date was October).
    He called the officer and told him and the officer suggested he go to the police station and he would serve him another ticket. My son did not go into the police station.
    He recently renewed his drivers licence and discovered it on his driving record and the ticket had been changed to the correct date.
    He was not served a copy of the new ticket allowing him to dispute the ticket. Does the officer have to reserve the ticket? What options does he have?

  7. Got a ticket 8 years ago in BC the fine is purely a motor vehicle act fine and has no criminal code elements and I live in another province. I am fairly certain I paid the fine, but now I have a company calling me saying I owe on it, 8 years is too long ago for me to have any reliable financial data, and it obviously isn’t visible on my driving record what so ever.

    So knowing I lack the evidence to “prove my innocence” (LOL!) I’m looking for information that could help me fight this collection agency. Looking into statute of limitations on debt collection I see the time period is 6 years, but does that include fines as well?


  8. Speeding ticket for my child was not given at time if offense. Police officer had vehicle impounded,gave them thus skip, but no ticket. This occurred on August 6, 2018. Told them to go on their way and pick up car in a week. We are from Saskatchewan, so we needed to make an expensive trip back for the car. A ticket was mailed to us dated August 16 , 2019 to pay the traffic violation. Is this right? To fight this ticket in Kelowna would be another great exspense for our family. Thanks for your time

  9. Hi….my name is Erik and i have recently started getting phonecalls from a collection agency. They are representing the city of thunder bay. So i called the city. They say i have an old speeding ticket from 1995 when i was 16 and on a cross country motorcycle trip. Its been 24 years. Do i have to pay or is this legally over and done with? Thanks for your time.

  10. Hi Kyla,
    I received a speeding ticket (driving my EV) on June 10th of this year. Completely disagreed with how it played out. Anyways, I went to renew my driver’s license at ICBC on August 7th expecting to pay the fine (as I had no time to dispute the ticket as I was out of town right after receiving the ticket for over a month) in order to complete my renewal. To my surprise, there was no ticket associated with my name on file and was informed by the ICBC rep (and the manager) that there was a statue of limitations on the ticket. Was news to me. Not sure how valid this statement was, but I went with it. Anyways, yesterday (October 3rd) I received a ‘Past Due Notice’ from ICBC in the mail stating I had to pay up immediately or the balance would be sent to collections.

    On principle alone, I feel I shouldn’t have to pay; I received no additional notices about the ticket. Having said that, I am law abiding and if there are no alternatives I will just pay the fine. Are you able to shed any light based on what I have recently experienced? Many thanks in advance.

  11. i had four speeding tickets due from 1. September 22nd 2015 2. October 19th 2015 3. November 9th 2015 4. November 24th 2015. I live in Saskatchewan and i got all of those tickets in Alberta. There was a letter sent out in the mail to me that says enforcement action will begin on September 3rd 2019. to recover unpaid balance unless payment arrangements have been paid. is there a statue of limitations after 5 years where i dont have to pay them? or is there any time on limitations and what can they do if i do not make payment? thank you

  12. I received a ticket for driving with no insurance, and another one for borrowing my daughters licence plate from her car one night when I was pulled over in officially hat Alberta. There was no fines set out, I was for what ever reason given only a court date. When the court date rolled around it was completely forgotten about. I have since been in contact with police over other matters and nothing has been said to me about it. Is there a limitations on them getting this thru court and dealt with, or what do you think is going on that I have not been contacted about these tickets and missed court appointment? I don’t want to just volunteer information by asking them about it if for some reason it has been overlooked or forgotten about.

  13. Hi,

    I got pulled over in Surrey today for jumping a red light, and the officer said that he is going on a call but will come and see me tomorrow, for sure. He neither asked for my DL nor my phone no/ address. I am wondering what will happen next?

  14. I received two tickets with the same allegation I went to icbc to pay for the ticket and they told me they will only accept one because they never seen such incident what happens next it was my first ticket ever

  15. Hello, I got a speeding ticket while on Hwy 1 by an officer with a radar gun. There was thick traffic and he said I was going fast but I feel he could have gotten another vehicles speed instead of mine. It has been past the 30 day mark for the dispute. I do realize that I can file an affidavit but I would like to know if it is possible to beat it.

  16. Hi we just received a red light ticket in the mail from May 2020 and its now October. The person driving the vehicle no longer works for the company. What can be done about this?

  17. Hi, I have just been ticketed with from window tinting, despite it’s just a clear film with no tint. Officer was even not sure there’s a tint as he more than double checking.

    Nevertheless the question is: the car is under my wife’s name who was not in the car. The ticket is issues under my name. Is it properly served?


  18. i got a speeding ticket south of Ottawa Ontario in October it is now January and still no letter or no call what usually happens at this point ?

  19. I am being pursued for parking tickets from 2017 and 2015. This seems very long. Your prior posting mentioned a case. Can you share the case name that dealt with ticket delays? Thanks so much,

  20. i have a question…my mother is the registered owner of my car because I have not been able to get back to Toronto to get it transferred over…i have an Ontario drivers license so I would need to register my car in Ontario…i obviously come back and forth between bc and Ontario i have family in BC…with that being said i the driver wasnt ever given this violation ticket even though my car has been impounded twice…the violation ticket is from July 29,2021… my mother was issued the ticket as the owner Oct 8,2021… when i was pulled over on July 30 and my vehicle was impounded why did this violation ticket not get mentioned or even me charged for the violation?? also the first time my car got impounded July 30 2021… why was this not issued to me as the driver when i have the papers to show that my mother gifted the car to me… my mother was oresehted this ticket Oct 8,2021 my vehicle was in the impound lot for 5 weeks August 22-sept 29 why was this not brought foward until now and also the ticket she received has the wrong address and a Burnaby postal code my mother lives on Vancouver Island…is this still valid??? the RCMP ARE trying to say vehicle seizure…when i have obviously been pulled over two times prior to this ticket 3 months later… why was i not issued the ticket as the driver…

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