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Law and the Border: Traffic violations away from home can be costly

The regulation of drivers' licences and the administration of justice for traffic violations are normally considered to be a matter of state or provincial concern, as the case may be....


The regulation of drivers’ licences and the administration of justice for traffic violations are normally considered to be a matter of state or provincial concern, as the case may be.

But be careful – violations in a different jurisdiction can affect your driving privileges both at home and away.

You are probably aware that the Canadian provinces have reciprocal agreements that allow a traffic violation outside of one’s province to result in demerit points against the driver’s record in the home province.

The same can be true of traffic violations incurred in the United States, particularly in border states adjacent to the Canadian province.

For example, traffic infractions by an Ontario driver in Michigan and New York can count against the driver’s Ontario record as if the offenses had occurred in Ontario. New Yorkers may be very surprised to see how out-of-state traffic violations affect their New York record.

A violation in any other state in the U.S. will not result in demerit points in New York, but points can be charged against the driver’s record in New York for violations in Ontario or Quebec.

A commercial driver won’t remain employed long if he accumulates excessive demerit points, whether in Canada or the U.S. Drivers should be aware that their exposure extends beyond monetary penalties for traffic violations, and that demerit points can accumulate for an adverse driving record outside of the home state of province.

A more common issue, however, is the inadvertent loss of driving privileges due to non-payment of fines for violations away from home.

Enhanced computerized databases allow the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers to check a person’s background quickly, and determine whether there are any outstanding warrants for his arrest. The CBP officer can also determine if the individual’s driver’s licence has been suspended.

Both commercial and non-commercial drivers have been surprised to discover that the failure to pay a fine for a previous infraction has resulted in the suspension of driving privileges.

In fact, I have witnessed such an episode where the driver was not allowed to even drive beyond the inspections booth.

The driver was required to exit his vehicle, and a CBP officer drove the vehicle to the parking area. The CBP called the New York State Police, who charged the driver with the infraction of driving with a suspended licence. The driver at that point says “I never made it past the inspections booth, so how can I have a driving violation in New York?”

The answer is that the driver had entered New York halfway across the bridge, and had violated New York law before arriving at the booth. The fact that the person had not been granted official entry to the U.S. does not mean that he had not driven on a U.S. highway.

Often, the driver is unaware that his driving privileges have been suspended, particularly if the driver is Canadian.

Although reciprocity agreements are in force, we have found that the communication aspect is deficient, and drivers almost never receive actual written notice of the suspension of driving privileges.

In the context of commercial drivers, a common scenario is for the company to tell the driver that the company will take care of the ticket.

Sometimes the company fails to do so, and sometimes the driver moves on to a new job with no knowledge whatsoever that he has been delinquent in paying a fine. The failure to pay the fine leads to a suspension of driving privileges. However, the driver is unaware of this and does not receive actual notice of the suspension.

He gets inspected by CBP at the border during an entry to the U.S., or is stopped for another violation within New York State, and a background check reveals the suspended licence.

This puts the driver in a very difficult position, because there is no way to resolve the problem on the spot.

The driver has to contact the original court, pay the fine, receive proof of payment, and submit the evidence to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get driving privileges restored.

But even that does not resolve the problem of the ticket for unlicensed driving.

That is a separate offense, and it is not cured merely by paying the delinquent fine and clearing up the driver record.

The unlicensed driving charge is a separate offense that carries its own penalty and court appearance.

Be careful about driving infractions away from home; they can have undesired and unexpected consequences.

– Daniel Joyce is a partner with the Buffalo N.Y. law firm Jaeckle Fleischmann & Mugel LLP. He can be reached at (716) 843-3946.


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