By Jordan W. Charness

It’s a funny thing but every so often when sitting with a group of friends, the conversation turns to driving experiences. Since many households have at least one driver, almost everyone has a favourite driving story to tell or question to ask.

I’m glad that they do since it keeps me in touch with what people get themselves into, and points me in the direction of topics people would like covered in this column. Your letters are also an excellent form of feedback and I read and appreciate every one of them.

Last week, there were about 10 of us sitting around the table discussing various things. John began with an interesting story. He was driving through the United States, or to be more precise, one of the United States, New York, when he noticed a state trooper parked alongside the road with a radar gun pointed in his general direction. He did what every driver does in that situation. He hit the brake and slowed down.

The police trooper got into his car and followed him. John thought everything was going to be fine since the policeman seemed to be doing nothing other than driving. That is until he turned on his lights and siren and motioned to John to pull over. John was asked for his license and registration and a few minutes later was given a ticket for speeding.

John asked me how long he had to pay the ticket. I countered with my own question, asking him how much the ticket was for. He said he didn’t know since he had not bothered to read the ticket!

Tip number one: if you get a ticket, read the ticket. If John had read his ticket he would have noticed that New York state troopers do not actually put the amount due on the ticket itself. The ticket simply states the offense, and gives you the option of pleading guilty or not guilty by mail or in person. Once convicted, a judge would decide the amount of the penalty.

Tip number two: if you plead not guilty you will have to attend your trial in order to explain your side of the story to the judge. Explanations are rarely accepted by mail even if accompanied by an affidavit. Attending the trial means going back to the town in the United States near where you were stopped.

Tip number three: Do not ignore the ticket. It won’t go away. If you just toss the ticket in the garbage figuring that it is an American ticket and you are a Canadian and therefore immune, a judgment will eventually be rendered against you. Since you did not bother to contest it, you may or not be notified of the judgment.

Tip number four: The Americans have a long memory. If there is a judgment against you and you have failed to pay the penalty you may get stopped at the border. Or to be more exact the border patrol will call the troopers who will then pull you over, possibly seize your car or even threaten to jail you. Immediate payment of the outstanding fine, interest and additional penalties will be required before you can continue on your way.

Tip number five: The Americans have a long reach. Many of the border states have signed reciprocal agreements with the neighbouring provinces. This means that your driver’s license may be docked the same number of demerit points as if you had earned your ticket at home.

Tip number six: The Americans think that there is only one kind of dollar: the U.S. dollar. Your fine will naturally be in U.S. dollars and payment must be made by an international money order or bank draft drawn on a U.S. account. Sending them a cheque on your Canadian bank account will not be much appreciated even if you added the notation USD after the $ sign.

Tip number seven: Just because you made it past the border does not mean you are necessarily safe. If you are pulled over for any other reason, a quick check of the license will show the outstanding tickets triggering a whole host of problems. (See Tip number four above.) In addition there are occasional roadblocks set up on the U.S. highways where drives are pulled over at random to check that they’re in the country legally and have a valid license.

If you receive a parking ticket in an American city you should pay it. Even though it may not have any demerit point ramifications, it is still a debt that you owe. Some U.S. cities are talking about turning over their outstanding parking tickets to collection agencies and having them chase you just like any other debtor. I’m not sure if this has yet come into effect but I suppose it’s only a matter of time.

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