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What must you be prepared to do if you are pulled over by the police in British Columbia?

People are pulled over by the police and they’re often uncertain about their rights and obligations. A police stop can be frightening. If it’s the first time you’ve been pulled over, you might be shaking with nervousness. People generally don’t like to be the subject of scrutiny by the police. The wisest course of action is to limit your contact with the police as much as possible. The question arises, what must you do if you are pulled over by the police? In other words, what are you obliged to do during a traffic stop investigation?

Lawful stop?

The police in British Columbia have full authority to enforce the Motor Vehicle Act, which is British Columbia legislation, and the Criminal Code of Canada, which is federal criminal legislation. The Motor Vehicle Act allows the police to pull people over for offences and for certain investigate inquiries. A lawful stop may be simply to check the status of a person’s license, for example.

The police do not even need a suspicion that the individual is driving without a proper license. This is a broad power. Many commentators express legitimate concerns that this broad power invites the police to abuse their authority. Assuming, however, a normal traffic stop, regardless of the lawful authority relied upon by the police, presenting a driver’s license is an obligation to which the driver must comply.

Having a DL

The BC Motor Vehicle Act requires that anyone driving or operating a motor vehicle on a road or highway must have a license to operate that vehicle. The license must be for the specific class of vehicle, and the driver must possess that license while there operating the motor vehicle. In other words, you must have the license for the vehicle you’re driving. For example, if you were operating a bus, you must have a license that permits you to operate a bus. If you are driving a car, you must have the license that permits you to drive a car. And you must have it on you while you are driving or operating that vehicle.

The license must be a subsisting license. In other words, it must be a license that you have at the time when you were driving and not one that you get the following day. This is a funny aspect of the law, but you can imagine circumstances of an individual who is driving, has an accident, does not have a valid license and goes to get that license after the accident. That is one of the reasons it must be a subsisting license.

There are no exemptions. Occasionally people view videos on the Internet which suggest there are some exemptions to having a driver’s license. There are none in British Columbia. You must have a valid driver’s license for that class of vehicle in order to drive.

Who owns your license?

If you are pulled over, you must upon the request of the police officer provide that driver’s license. Drivers’ licenses are not the property of the driver. The license is issued by the relevant government agency. The government that issues the driver’s license is the owner of the license. A police officer in British Columbia, pursuant to their lawful authority, is entitled to request the license and have it handed to them. If the officer determines that the license is for some reason invalid, or the driver should not be in possession of it, the police may seize that license. Even a license from a foreign jurisdiction may be seized by the police pursuant to their lawful authority.

Confirming identity

What this means is that when you were pulled over, and the police ask you for your driver’s license, you must present it to them. That is an obligation written into the Motor Vehicle Act. A further obligation is to confirm your identity. The police are entitled to ask you to confirm your name and your address. It is common for the police to take the driver’s license in hand, to look at the photograph on the license and compare it with the person in front of them. And then ask the person their name and their address.

It is considered sufficient in law to confirm the identity of a driver by following these steps. Once a police officer has followed these steps, it is reasonable for them to conclude that the license that has been presented is the one for the person before them driving the vehicle.

Registered owner

As a driver you are required to identify yourself and provide your license. This is clear. One thing that many people fail to learn is that they must also provide, upon request by the police officer, a copy of the certificate of insurance for the vehicle. And, upon request by a police officer, the driver must also confirm the name and address of the registered owner of the motor vehicle.

For example, if you rent a car at the Vancouver airport and you were pulled over by the police driving away from the airport, you must provide your license and confirm your identity. And the police may ask for the copy of the certificate of insurance for the vehicle. You must then present it as the driver, and confirm the name and address of the registered owner. Now, it is reasonable for a driver not to know this off the top of their head. But they can confirm it looking at the document. And so it may be that the owner is a company, such as a rental car company, and their address will be on the certificate of insurance. The purpose of this is to ensure that people are driving lawfully insured vehicles. It may also be useful in some circumstances for the police to determine whether or not the driver is in lawful possession of the vehicle.

Chatting with the officer?

Often people wish to engage the police officer in a discussion at the roadside particularly if they think the officer is going to issue them a traffic ticket. Usually the police are not interested in having a discussion at the roadside. Things a driver says to the officer may be evidence that they are compelled to record to use against the driver. The police generally do not record evidence that tends to exonerate you or suggest that you are innocent. They tend to record the evidence that suggests you are guilty of an offence. Most of the time the police simply want to get on with their job, and would rather not be put in a position where they are required to record further evidence by way of admissions that you make at the roadside.

Get on your way

Beyond providing your license and the insurance documents, confirming your identity and the identity of the registered owner of the motor vehicle, in most cases you are not required to assist the police in any other way. If the police officer decides to issue you a violation ticket or has made the decision to issue you a traffic ticket because they’ve concluded that you’ve committed an offence, you will simply be handed the ticket and be on your way. At that point, if you’re smart, you’ll record some information about what took place and consider whether or not it’s appropriate to dispute the ticket.


Remember, traffic tickets must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt by the prosecution. If there is a reasonable doubt that the offence was committed or an essential element of the offence cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the court must acquit the accused. Beyond a reasonable doubt is an important protection in our legal system.

Easy to contact us

If you were pulled over by the police for traffic violation or the police pull you over for some other purpose, give us a call or send us an email. We defend every driving offence there is in British Columbia. We’re the BC Driving Lawyers. Got caught? Call us.