Record year for traffic tickets causes backlog at Manitoba courts
All-time high for traffic tickets and wait times in court
In 2014/2015, there were 245,576 traffic tickets received by provincial courts in Manitoba. As a result, people can expect to wait up to 18 months to see a judge if they choose to plead not guilty to the offence.
"In 18 months people move; they don't know what they're going to be doing, they're changing jobs," said Rodney Bolianaz, a retired police office who works as a traffic ticket agent, reducing people's fines and representing them in court.
"We're seeing people that end up not being able to show up for court because they've set a court date and they're simply not here. You're convicted in your absence."
It's not very nice to come and pay for your tickets or plead for your tickets and have to wait in line for hours and hours on end.- Tyler Stahl
Tyler Stahl, who is fighting eight tickets, had to wait 13 months for his court date. But the 20-year-old man said he can't afford any more demerits and needs his licence to work.
"It's not very nice to come and pay for your tickets or plead for your tickets and have to wait in line for hours and hours on end," he said.
Garen Pheifer disagreed with his ticket over a stop sign violation but chose to forego the 18-month wait to see a judge and opted instead for a reprimand and a reduced fine. He said it wasn't worth sacrificing a day's pay for a day in court.
"Most people, they just don't have the time to take off so they're just going to end up paying the fine. Whether they agree with it or not," he said.
More tickets means longer waits
The Winnipeg Police Service has upped its use of photo radar in recent years resulting in more fines being handed out. The program netted $9.9 million in revenue in 2014 with 32,172 more traffic-related convictions than in 2011, according to an annual report on the photo enforcement program.
Tickets issued for distracted driving are also on the rise as people continue to text or talk on their cellphone while behind the wheel.
People might not fully understand that they would have their matter dealt with more quickly by pleading guilty with an explanation.- Shauna Curtin
As well, reduced speed limits in school zones and the clampdown on speeding in construction zones are also factors in keeping the courts busy.
Upon receiving a traffic ticket, people have the option to pay it, give an explanation to the judge or set the matter to trial.
"Some of the wait time is simply that people might not fully understand that they would have their matter dealt with more quickly by pleading guilty with an explanation," said Shauna Curtin, assistant deputy minister in the courts division of Manitoba Justice.
She said 3,471 people opted to fight their ticket that way in June alone. And the majority of those cases are heard by a judge the same day.
"Service today on the guilty-with-an-explanation pleas, that's outstanding," she said.
While 75 per cent of people pay their ticket, 25 per cent choose to appeal it, according to Curtin.
As a result, those waiting to speak to someone at the clerk's office take a number and spill out onto the sidewalk until they're called, which can take hours. It's another wait to speak to a judge after the clerk.
Curtin said the remedy to wait times and ticket woes is simple — just don't break the law.
"You don't have to have a ticket. You don't need to have a trial. You don't have to have guilty with an explanation," she said.
The province is implementing steps to streamline the process by next spring in response to changes to the Provincial Offences Act. One of the changes is that the police officer involved in issuing the ticket won't have to appear in court if the ticket is appealed.