Councillor's bid to tie traffic fines to income hits a roadblock

Surrey RCMP officers stop vehicles in winter 2017 as part of Operation Counterattack targeting drunk drivers. (Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC - image credit)
Surrey RCMP officers stop vehicles in winter 2017 as part of Operation Counterattack targeting drunk drivers. (Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC - image credit)

Should everyone pay the same amount if they're fined for a traffic violation?

While the topic was debated across the province over the last week, the issue has temporarily stalled.

"I was a little surprised that folks weren't willing to step up and explore the motion," said Saanich Coun. Teale Phelps Bondaroff.

He put forward a motion Monday requesting "the provincial government explore the implementation of a means-tested traffic fine system, whereby fines would be calculated on the basis of the recipients' income." But the discussion ended after no councillor seconded his motion.

"There's no harm in asking the province to explore innovative measures to improve our road safety rules and I think this is a really good solution that would help make our roads safer," said Bondaroff.

He argued the current system of fines doesn't deter wealthy drivers from speeding or breaking other traffic laws, while it's unduly harsh on people living paycheque to paycheque.

Currently in B.C., the penalties for driving violations are the same regardless of income, from $138 to $483 for speeding, to $167 for driving through a red light.

Fines of more than $100K

There are dozens of countries that tie traffic fines to income in some way, mostly in Latin America and Europe.

While in some countries the difference is relatively small, in Finland and Switzerland there have been fines of more than $100,000 due to fines being set to the equivalent of a half-day's salary for the offender.

Ultimately, the final decision is not up to municipalities, as traffic violation fines fall under the Motor Vehicle Act, which is the provincial government's jurisdiction.

Prior to the Saanich council meeting, B.C. Premier David Eby said the proposal was "interesting."

"I think every British Columbian values road safety," he said. "Happy to look at any suggestion people bring forward. This one is an interesting one, I'll say that."

Correspondence received by the District of Saanich on the issue was split, with some people praising the measure, while others argued it was a tax grab that raised privacy concerns.

If passed, the motion would have headed to the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities for debate, before potentially being considered by all communities at the Union of B.C. Municipalities Convention.

Bondaroff is still hopeful a discussion happens, even if Saanich isn't involved.

"My hope is that another more progressive and forward-looking council considers taking up the motion," he said.