OPP Sergeant Cam Wooley with books of traditional paper traffic tickets
OPP Sergeant Cam Wooley with books of traditional paper traffic tickets. Click image to enlarge

Story and photos by Jil McIntosh

Many years ago, when a yellow light really meant “slow down” instead of “speed up”, an officer tagged me for running one. I maintained it was green when I entered the intersection, and went to court to argue it.

It turned out I didn’t need to. The judge threw it out because the officer had misspelled my name on the ticket. But that’s about to become a thing of the past, with the introduction of electronic ticketing by the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario (MTO). With a few strokes of a keyboard, or a swipe of your driver’s license, your ticket will automatically be sent to an in-car printer – and eventually, directly to the court.

Designed, built and deployed by the MTO over the last 18 months, Roadside Data Capture was launched on June 28, 2006 in two OPP cruisers and nine MTO enforcement vehicles, and is expected to be installed in over 500 units by the end of the year. City of Toronto police will go online in the early fall, and the MTO says that other police jurisdictions have expressed interest in the system.

“Writing tickets is fraught with errors,” says Sgt. Cam Woolley, of the OPP’s Highway Safety Division. “When we pull someone over, we’re watching traffic, we’re watching the person we’ve pulled over, we’re looking up the offence, and we’re trying to transcribe the ticket. And some cops should have been doctors, because they write so bad. Now, we can swipe the driver’s license just like a debit card and it all comes up on the screen to be printed.”

The system can identify driver’s licenses from across North America, and license plates from across Canada.

The new system has two components: e-PON (Electronic Provincial Offence Notices), and e-CVIR (Electronic Commercial Vehicle Inspection Reports). The e-CVIR, filled out whenever large trucks are inspected for safety by officers from MTO, replaces the conventional handwritten report. But its usefulness goes far beyond simply printing forms.

Ministry of Transportation enforcement officer Hank Dubee prints one of the new tickets in his car.
Ministry of Transportation enforcement officer Hank Dubee prints one of the new tickets in his car.. Click image to enlarge

“The system also allows us to access truck inspections, with the data collected instantly in real time,” Woolley says. “If a truck is stopped today in Windsor (Ontario) and tomorrow in Whitby (Ontario), the Whitby officer will know exactly what was found in Windsor. Right now, it takes months to access that. Now the officer can say, ‘They told you about this, and you were supposed to fix it.’ The e-CVIR improves communications, and helps us take dangerous trucks off the road because we’ll know they’ve been stopped before, and we can pinpoint problem carriers and bad vehicles.”

The system will also allow police to bring up the truck’s inspection report at any time; if the plate comes up on the system with a “green flag”, indicating that it has passed inspection, the officer doesn’t have to pull it over to check. Should the truck have been previously cited for safety concerns that were subsequently fixed, the vehicle’s status can be immediately changed in the database.

Roadside Data Capture can be used in any vehicle containing a mobile work station – right now, that’s about 330 OPP cars and 200 MTO vehicles. The officer swipes the driver’s license or, if the driver can’t produce one, enters the information on the work station’s computer keyboard. The computer automatically fills in the ticket; when the officer enters the offence, the computer comes up with the correct wording, fine and victim surcharge. Finally, a printer spits out the necessary number of copies.

Sgt Woolley swipes a driver's license in the system's card reader.
Sgt Woolley swipes a driver’s license in the system’s card reader. Click image to enlarge

At the moment, the court copy must still go the conventional way, sent by police courier to a court clerk, who must manually input it into the court system. By the end of the year, it’s expected that the tickets will be automatically e-filed with the courts, eliminating delays and the possibility of transcription errors.

“It’s bad news for the paralegal industry, where legibility and spelling errors often form the entire defense,” Woolley says. “Most of their successes are in finding errors on the tickets. In my utopia, court cases will be all about the case, not the ticket.”

The e-tickets are also cheaper than regular tickets, which MTO enforcement officer Hank Dubee says cost about a dollar each, due to the fact that they’re carbonless duplicates. They’ll also avoid the mountain of paper some officers carry. “I go everywhere, Barrie to Windsor to London to Cornwall, wherever I’m needed, and I have to have tickets for every jurisdiction,” Dubee says. “Some officers carry a dozen ticket books. If I’m not carrying tickets for the area I’m in, I have to call someone else, or look the other way because I can’t pull someone over. Now, I just go to a drop-down list, and it prints the right ticket for the jurisdiction.”

He wrote several on the launch day, but says that offenders really don’t care about the format they receive. “It’s all about saving time and money, and safety,” he says. “The courts will want this more than anyone because there are no errors.”

A truck comes in for inspection. The electronic inspection reports will be available to officers immediately on their in-car computers.
A truck comes in for inspection. The electronic inspection reports will be available to officers immediately on their in-car computers. Click image to enlarge

“The intention was to improve communications and efficiencies,” says MTO enforcement officer Harry Alkema. “The MTO designed the application first for the truck inspections, and then because the follow-up was issuing notices, the e-PON was the natural progression.

“It’s not a new concept; the OPP was doing MDEARS (Mobile Data Entry And Retrieval System), which took the ticket and printed it on an impact printer. But it wasn’t the creation of the ticket, it was problematic with lining up the paper form, and it didn’t go directly to the mainframe. This is the next evolution. This is the first application in Ontario, but we’re getting a lot of interest from other police services.”

Woolley says that e-tickets drastically reduce the time spent on handwritten tickets, which gets police and drivers off the side of the road sooner.

“Most people we stop for speeding are in a hurry anyway,” he quips. “They should like this, because it’ll get them on their way even faster.”

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