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Are professional drivers treated unfairly when it comes to traffic tickets?

At BC Driving Lawyers we hear from professional drivers who have been handed driving prohibitions and are very concerned about their livelihoods. Even if their last offence was relatively minor, they might have been given a suspension because it was the third or fourth time they were caught in the space of a few years. For a taxi driver, truck driver or delivery driver, this could mean being forced to take unpaid time off work or losing their job altogether.

We frequently get calls from professional drivers who believe they are being unfairly treated by the legal system. Because they spend more time on the roads, they feel they are more likely to rack up tickets than other motorists and deserve some leniency. It’s common to hear them say things like, “I drive for a living. Shouldn’t there be some recognition that I have a greater risk of getting tickets?”

Well, history shows this argument holds little sway in court and, in fact, courts and tribunals believe the opposite. The fact someone drives for a living means they may be treated more harshly. While it’s true there is a direct correlation between the amount of time someone spends on the road and their chance of getting a ticket, this does not garner sympathy. In fact, our justice officials impose stricter punishment on professional drivers to make an example out of them, or because they believe it is in the interests of public safety. Still, there have been cases where some leniency has been extended to professional drivers.

Are professional drivers held to a higher standard than everyone else?

Even good drivers make mistakes. But if you drive more there are more opportunities to make mistakes. Exposed to thousands of left hand turns, some will be imperfect. But there is no forgiveness and in fact they’re held to a near impossible standard.

“Obviously, you are a professional driver and so should be more aware than most of us really about the dangers that are presented.”

– sentencing judge in lower court of R v Dulay

Not only are professional drivers more exposed to traffic tickets by virtue of spending more time on the road, courts are less lenient towards them. There are many reported cases where people who drive a lot for work were held to a higher standard than everyone else. The reason is because they are professional they should therefore be more experienced and better trained.

The theory that professional drivers should be held to a higher standard appears to have been part of an Ontario judge’s considerations when sentencing a long-haul truck driver in this fatal car crash. Gordon Fitt was convicted of dangerous driving after he rear-ended a vehicle while travelling at 189 km/h in the slow lane of a 100 km/h stretch of highway. One person was killed and two others were permanently injured in the collision. The prosecution argued that even though Fitt was in his own car and was not working at the time, the fact he was a professional driver was an “aggravating feature of his crimes”.

The judge stated: “The Crown submits that as a professional driver, Mr. Fitt ought to be held to a higher standard of behaviour so that his failure to drive safely, given his training and experience, ought to attract a more punitive sentence.”

This interpretation appears to have been supported by the judge who later said, “[Fitt’s] prior training and experience as a professional driver is an aggravating feature of his crime because he knew better and yet persisted in a dangerous course of conduct”.

In addition to a three-year prison sentence, Fitt received a five-year driving prohibition to be served following his release.

Prohibitions can be imposed on professional drivers in the interests of “public safety”

Here in BC, the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles issues most driving prohibitions. Under the Motor Vehicle Act, the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles can do so, with or without a hearing, if they consider it to be in the interests of public safety. They might feel it is necessary to remove a driver from the road because they spend more time driving than most people and therefore pose a greater risk. The lengths of prohibitions are really down to either a judge’s or the Superintendent’s discretion and there is no maximum limit of what they could be. This has led to inconsistency when it comes to driving prohibitions.

In this case, a professional driver had his 12-month suspension for driving without due care and attention reduced to six months on appeal. An earlier judge at provincial court had said: “Obviously, you are a professional driver and so should be more aware than most of us really about the dangers that are presented when people drive as badly as you have done in the past and did do on this occasion.”

He added the prohibition was not punitive, but rather to protect the “innocent driving public” from the danger presented by the driver, who had 25 moving violations within a 20-years span, with two post-offence violations.

On appeal at BC Supreme Court, the driver defended his driving history by saying as a professional driver he would put on many more “driving kilometres” than most people. The Supreme Court judge took this into account, when he said: “The appellant’s record of driving violations is extensive, but it extends over many years in a context of a high volume of driving.”

So although harsher sentences, such as longer driving prohibitions, may be given in the interests of public safety, there may be some acknowledgement of the high volume of driving creating more chances to make mistakes.

If driving is their livelihood, can professional drivers use it as a defense?

Professional drivers are held to a higher standard and because they spend more time on the road and it can be argued those who repeatedly offend pose a greater threat to public safety. However, in their eagerness to make an example of these drivers, courts can be a little overzealous with suspensions.

To someone with no other skills or means of making a living, a driving prohibition can represent the loss of one’s livelihood and ability to provide for their family. But can you use argue this point in mitigation against a harsh sentence?

In this Supreme Court case, an aircraft mechanic, whose driver’s license was a condition of his employment, had his two-month suspension for speeding reduced to 21 days. The judge noted the ban would have impacted on the mechanic’s means of earning money and even questioned the impartiality of the lower court judge whose “aura of impatience” prevented the appellant from fully explaining his circumstances.

At BC Driving Lawyers, we defend all driving infractions and prohibitions. If you are a professional driver who faces the loss of your licence or even your job, it’s important you get professional help to prevent that from happening. The potential loss of your livelihood can be daunting, but you have rights. We have defended countless professional drivers in court and successfully argued against unfair punishment and had driving prohibitions reduced, cancelled or overturned.

Call us at 604-608-1200.