By Jordan W. Charness
Many states in the U.S. allow you to drive faster on the highways than in Canada. Generally speaking, Canadian highways have a maximum speed limit of 100 km/h or approximately 62 mph. Many U.S. highways have a maximum speed limit of 65 mph and in some cases as high as 70 or 75 mph. Unlike Canadian highways the speed limit is not uniform on the same road and is usually lower near major metropolitan centres and higher out in the middle of nowhere.
The Americans deal with speeders differently than we do. In Canada each province sets its speed limits and the fines and penalties imposed upon those who drive too fast. There is a table and point system which indicates the amount of the fine and the number of demerit points you will get for each 10 km of speed travelled in excess of the speed limit.
Where I live in Québec, our usual points of entries are the borders with New York and Vermont. Driving in the U.S. is a privilege and not a right. While many US states recognize a Québec driver’s license it is a courtesy that can be revoked.
The whole system of speeding tickets is treated differently as well. When a police officer stops you, in New York State for instance, you will be issued a Uniform Traffic Ticket issued by the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles. The New York State Troopers as well as local municipalities use the same ticket and write in the jurisdiction on the ticket itself.
Similar to our ticket it contains a clear indication of the date of offense, time of offense and place of offense as well as a description of the alleged violation including the section of the law that was broken. A typical ticket will describe the violation as “traveling 83 mph in a 65 mile-per-hour zone as evidenced by the officer who signed the ticket who captured the violation on radar”.
Unlike our tickets, Uniform Traffic Tickets, do not give any indication of the fine that you are to pay or the number of demerit points that may be charged against your license. Instead you receive a direction to appear in the court of the city, town, or village located closest to the place where you allegedly committed your infraction. You are given a specific date and time to appear which is usually within a month of the day that you are caught speeding.
The back of the ticket offers you two choices. You may enter a plea of guilty, or conversely, a plea of not guilty. If you decide to plead not guilty you have a right to request a supporting deposition explaining the charges in greater detail than appear on the ticket. In order to do so you must make a request within 30 days from the date you were directed to appear in court as listed on the ticket. You send a reply by registered or certified mail and the court will then advise you of a trial date. You must appear in person at your trial which means going back to that town in New York.
If you plead guilty the judge will assess your fine based on whatever circumstances are brought before him or her. You are permitted to send back a plea of guilty along with an explanation explaining why you were going as fast as you were which may be considered as mitigating circumstances to try and convince the judge to give you a lesser fine.
It remains up to the judge’s discretion, to decide how much you will be fined based on the circumstances. There is no official table of charges and fines like there is here.
If you decide to do nothing and ignore the ticket altogether instead of sending back a plea, the judge will order your driving privileges suspended in the State of New York and where possible, the rest of the USA as well. This means that if you drive into the States you can be arrested, have your car seized and be taken immediately to a police station or jail to await a trial.
If you do have an outstanding New York ticket it would be well worth your while to call the clerk of the court in the jurisdiction that you ignored in order to send in a plea and be properly dealt with by law. Ignoring the ticket will guarantee that you are charged a higher fine and that you will pay an additional penalty charge to have the suspension lifted. You will only be allowed to drive in that State once all your fines and penalties have been fully paid.