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The defence of necessity in speeding cases has varying degrees of success

Defence of necessity in speeding cases

There are relatively few defences available to you if you get a speeding ticket. However, one option that may be available to you, in certain circumstances, is the defence of necessity in speeding cases. This is basically when you argue that you had no other choice but to speed. Proving this in court is not as easy as it sounds, and courts have interpreted the defence differently.

This blog will look at the defence of necessity, when it applies and how it plays out in Court.

What does the law say?

Section 146 of the Motor Vehicle Act addresses the offence of speeding in British Columbia. It establishes that a person must not drive a motor vehicle at a greater speed than 50 km/h within a municipality and 80 km/h outside a municipality unless there is a sign varying the speed limit. Depending on the offence, you can be fined between $138 and $253, or up to $483 for excessive speeding. Don’t forget, speeders are also liable for three penalty points which also means insurance premiums.

Speeding is what is known as an absolute liability offence. Accordingly, there is no requirement to prove you intended to break the law, or that you failed to take reasonable care to break the law. You either committed the offence or you didn’t. Therefore, the Crown does not need to argue your reasons for speeding.

Now, this would seemingly make all speeding cases heard in a court cut and dried, however, it’s not that simple.

Requirements of the defence of necessity in speeding cases

Although speeding is an absolute liability offence, it is possible to claim a defence of necessity. In other words, you can argue that the speeding was necessary because there was no alternative, legal course of action. In traffic court, the burden is on you to prove the defence of necessity in speeding cases.

For this defence to succeed, you are required to show that there was “no reasonable legal alternative” to speeding. You, therefore, must prove that exceeding the speed limit was “inevitable, unavoidable” and there was “no reasonable opportunity for an alternative course of action that does not involve a breach of the law.”

Interpretation of the defence of necessity in speeding cases

We can see why the defence of necessity exists. After all, it’s easy to imagine some hypothetical situation where speeding is the lesser of two evils. For instance, ambulances, fire trucks, police cars are all exempted from speeding infractions in cases of emergency.

For most drivers, however, it can be difficult to establish the defence of necessity in court. In this case, for example, a doctor, Mr. Beheshti, appealed against a speeding conviction on the grounds he had received a call from the hospital advising him a patient was severely ill and that he needed to be there “right away”. It was on the way to the hospital that a police officer stooped him and issued a speeding ticket.

Mr. Beheshti argued that his need to come to the aid of a seriously ill patient excused him from the speeding offence. Despite this, The BC Supreme Court judge did not agree, stating: “The law, in my view, is clear that the offence of speeding is an absolute liability offence such that the defence of “necessity” is not available to Dr. Beheshti.”

So even for a doctor attending to a patient, the standard of the defence can be very high.

Successful argument of defence of necessity

That is not to say the defence of necessity never holds up in Court. In this recent case from the BC Supreme Court, a driver, Mr. Parmar, argued that his conviction for speeding was unfair because the judicial justice at traffic court did not listen fully to his case.

Mr. Parmar testified that a driver in another car had been acting “erratically” –  changing lanes to get in front of him and braking suddenly – as he was attempting to merge where two lanes converged into one. He decided the only way to safely merge was to speed up so he could get in front of the other car. It was at this location that the police officer saw he was speeding and issued a ticket.

The traffic court judicial justice dismissed Mr. Parmar’s appeal, stating: “He went over 50 kilometres and that is the only finding I have to be satisfied with.”

The BC Supreme Court judge, however, found the judicial justice failed to properly consider Mr. Parmar’s defence.

He was satisfied the requirements of the defence of necessity were reached and overturned the conviction, stating: “ I accept the appellant’s evidence that in an effort to avoid the car that was being driven dangerously he sped up so he could merge in front of him.”

Can hiring a lawyer help?

Consequently, the defence of necessity in speeding cases is often applied with varying degrees of success in Court. Judges can dismiss an appeal, even if you are a doctor on the way to a medical emergency, or they can take you at your word that you had no safe, legal alternative but to speed.

The defence is there, nonetheless, and it can succeed. The BC Driving Lawyers are here to help and if you think your case might have merit, call us on 604-608-1200 for a free consultation.