Albertans hit with traffic tickets will no longer be able to bargain their way out of the demerit points that can lead to driver's licence suspensions and costlier insurance.
Drivers have been able to plead guilty to a lesser charge that included a fine, but no demerits. Alberta Justice put a stop to that practice, starting this week.
"Demerit points are an important part of highway safety," said David Dear, spokesman for Alberta Justice.
"It's a way of removing bad drivers from the road, ultimately, and we don't think you should be allowed to avoid those when we can prove that you were at the wheel."
Thousands of traffic violations
On Alberta roads, 42,000 traffic tickets are handed out every month.
Drivers can get demerit points for each violation, such as three points for failing to halt at a stop sign. Fifteen or more points in under two years means a licence suspension of between one and six months.
Companies can also up vehicle insurance rates on the basis of demerit points.
Some drivers choose to fight the ticket by heading to a First Appearance Centre, where they can speak with a provincial Crown prosecutor with no appointment.
About a third plead guilty and manage to negotiate a lesser charge with the prosecutor, avoiding demerit points.
Changes introduced Tuesday in Calgary and province-wide this week mean drivers can still bargain for a lower fine and fewer demerits, but the province is outlawing the practice of removing the points entirely.
More drivers taking tickets to trial
In Calgary, Crown prosecutor Richard Parken said the change will help prosecutors better track repeat offenders.
However, even in its first week, more drivers are now wanting to take their tickets into courtrooms, he said. Drivers are pleading not guilty, taking a chance on winning a trial and avoiding the demerit points.
Courtrooms will get even busier as more people find out about the new rules and plead not guilty, said Charlie Pester, who helps people fight their traffic tickets.
"If you're looking at trying to keep the points off your record, the bottom line is you can forget about going to the [First Appearance Centre]," he said.