The prosecution has to prove speed signs apply

What does the prosecution have to prove about speed signs to show they apply?

When you dispute a speeding ticket in BC, the relevant offence might be referred to at Court as, “speeding against a highway sign”. The language is important here. In BC, the speed limit is 50 km/h within a municipality and 80 km/h outside a municipality, unless there is a sign indicating otherwise. If you are charged with speeding along a road where a sign has varied the speed limit, this is known as speeding against a highway sign.

If you receive a ticket for speeding against a highway sign you can either accept it and pay the fine – which amounts to pleading guilty – or file a dispute. Every person charged with speeding has the right to dispute a ticket. Doing so effectively puts the Crown on notice that it must prove beyond a reasonable doubt each and every element of the alleged offence of speeding against a highway sign.

But what exactly does the prosecution have to prove about speed signs to show they apply?

What does the statute say?

The offence of speeding in BC is addressed by Section 146 of the Motor Vehicle Act. It states 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. Of course, there are plenty of highways where the speed limit is higher or lower than 50 km/h or 80 km/h. This is because Section 146 allows the minister responsible for the administration of the Transportation Act to increase or decrease the speed limit on a particular portion of highway.  S. 146(3) states:

If the minister responsible for the administration of the Transportation Act has caused a sign to be erected or placed on a highway limiting the rate of speed of motor vehicles or a category of motor vehicles driven or operated on that portion of the highway, a person must not, when the sign is in place on the highway, drive or operate a vehicle on that portion of the highway at a greater rate of speed than that indicated on the sign for that category of motor vehicle.

This has been interpreted to mean that you can only be convicted of speeding on roads where the speed limit has been varied if there is a sign indicating the speed limit.

What does the prosecution have to prove about signs?

In order to prove a person was speeding against a sign, the Crown has to prove that there was a sign indicating the speed limit that applies to the path taken by the accused. To meet this requirement, a police officer monitoring speed on a particular road needs to check there is a speed sign in place and unobstructed. If they fail to check, this can be a defence against a speeding conviction.

In the BC Supreme Court decision, R. v. Potts, a driver named Mr. Potts appealed against a conviction for speeding. A police officer, Cst. Monson, said he clocked the appellant’s vehicle travelling at 141 km/h on a highway with a posted speed of 110 km/h. On cross-examination, the police officer who issued the speeding ticket was asked whether the highway signs were in place and unobstructed on the date of the offence.

He replied that he had no personal recollection of whether he specifically checked on that day but that it was his general practice to ensure that the signage was in place and unobstructed. This was enough for the Supreme Court judge to overturn the driver’s conviction for speeding.

The Court’s decision stated: “Had Cst. Monson stated that his general practice was to ensure the highway signs were in place and unobstructed before each occasion that he operated stationary radar then, in my view, he would have met the burden of proof required by the Crown to establish this element of the offence.  Instead, his evidence fell short on this issue…”

It can, therefore, be interpreted that the Crown must establish beyond a reasonable date that signs were visible on the date of the offence. It is not good enough to say that the signs are usually checked, there must be evidence they were checked on the day in question.  

In the recent case, a driver appealed against a conviction for speeding against a highway sign. The appellant, Mr. Chamberlain, argued the prosecution had not proven beyond a reasonable doubt there was a speed sign in place along the stretch of highway he was allegedly caught speeding.

According to evidence from the police officer who issued the speeding ticket: “I confirmed that the posted signage in the area read 90 kilometres an hour…The signs were clear and posted and had not been removed since the previous shift.” This was sufficient proof there were signs in place and the appeal was dismissed.

Does the Crown need to prove who placed a speed sign?

According to the wording of s. 146, a speed sign must be placed by the minister responsible for the administration of the Transportation Act. You might think this would mean there is a burden on the prosecution to prove a speed sign was placed there by the relevant authority, however, this is not the case.

Section 201 of the Motor Vehicle Act excuses the Crown from having to prove who placed a particular sign. S. 201 states: “The existence of a sign permitted by this Act and purporting to regulate the use of the highway in any manner is evidence the sign was duly erected and maintained by the proper authority under this Act and in accordance with this Act and the regulations.”

A police officer, therefore, doesn’t need to prove who placed a speed sign, the existence of the sign is enough to assume it was placed there by the minister.

Mr. Chamberlain argued the police officer’s evidence failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the signs had been placed there by the minister. The Supreme Court judge, on the other hand, found the effect of s. 201 was sufficient to establish that the sign had been erected by the minister.

The judge said: “ It is true that Constable Towns made no express reference, in his evidence, to the minister (or any delegates or employees of the minister) having had any involvement in placing the sign…  But in my view, the body of evidence as a whole allowed for the reasonable inference that the signs to which Constable Towns referred were signs placed by the minister.”

What must the Crown prove about 50 km/h and 80 km/h roads?

As we know, the speed limit within a municipality is presumed to be 50 km/h and outside a municipality, 80 km/h. Does this mean the Crown still needs to prove there was a speed sign in place in order to convict a person of speeding on roads where there is no variation of the speed limit?

Generally speaking, the prosecution does not have to prove a speed sign has been erected on a road which has a presumptive speed limit in place. After all, lots of suburban roads do not have speed signs but drivers are generally aware they should not go faster than 50 km/h.

In this case, the Crown appealed against a driver’s acquittal for speeding. The driver, Mr. Salemi, had been given a speeding ticket for going 73 km/h on a 50 km/h road based on photographic evidence from a speed monitoring device. No evidence was given of a posted speed limit at the location of the offence, merely that it was within a municipality.  

Mr. Salemi had the speeding ticket overturned after a Justice of the Peace ruled the Crown needed to prove that either there were signs saying it was a 50 km/h zone or that there were no signs in place resulting in a presumed speed limit of 50 km/h.

This decision was appealed at the BC Supreme Court with the judge eventually finding in the Crown’s favour. The Court ruled that when a person is charged with speeding against the general 50 km/h speed limit, the burden of proof shifts to the defendant. It is up to the defendant, in these circumstances, to provide evidence that there was an exception to that speed limit. The judge added: “… the Crown need not prove there is no exception unless the evidence puts the matter in issue.”

So the Crown has less to prove when someone is charged with travelling against a presumed speed limit.

Why hiring a lawyer can help

These cases go to show it is always worth it to fight a speeding ticket. If you accept the penalties for a violation ticket, crucial evidence can be overlooked.

It is worth hiring a lawyer to help you fight a speeding ticket. The prosecution has a lot to prove about speed signs to show they apply and the BC Driving Lawyers can hold them to this responsibility. If there is a reasonable doub, we will do everything we can to bring this to the Court’s attention. Call us today on 604-608-1200.

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