Should high-income drivers pay more for traffic tickets in B.C.?

There’s a push by a city councillor in B.C. to make higher-income earners pay more for driving tickets for traffic violations.

Saanich district councillor Teale Phelps Bondaroff is behind the effort, arguing if a minimum-wage worker gets a $138 ticket for speeding, that can be a major blow to the wallet — more so than it would be for somebody making six figures.

He’s put forward a motion at the council level aimed at eventually asking the province to make a change, pushing for means-tested traffic fines.

“This is a model that has been adopted around the world in Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Austria, France, and Switzerland. It’s a system that ensures that people who are very wealthy are properly deterred from breaking the law and follow road laws,” he explained.

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“This policy addresses two problems. The first, is that our current flat-rate traffic fine system disproportionately impacts people with low incomes, and it fails to serve as an effective deterrent for people who are very wealthy.”

Phelps Bondaroff’s motion says the current traffic fine system is “biased against low-income individuals.” It adds the means-tested system that is being proposed seeks “to address this injustice by charging individuals fines calculated on the basis of their income.”

Premier David Eby has been asked about such a change. He has been largely non-committal, but has acknowledged the proposal is “an interesting suggestion.”

“I’m happy to look at any suggestion that people bring forward,” he said. “I think every British Columbian values road safety.”

Saanich has no authority to change the rules in its municipality, as traffic violation fines are determined by the Motor Vehicle Act, which is a provincial jurisdiction.

“Someone who is very wealthy, they could be dropping those dollars, maybe they just go without their fancy handbag that month, whereas someone else may lose their housing or their ability to pay for groceries. What we want is we want people to be following laws on our roads because those laws are put in place to keep our roads safe,” Phelps Bondaroff said.

The councillor’s motion says research has shown that traffic fines are overall effective in “reducing accidents and improving road safety.”

“Traffic fine equity has been identified as a concern around the world,” the motion continues.

Phelps Bondaroff says he was prompted to move ahead with this motion, which was also a promise he made during the election, by his passion for road safety.

“It’s also something that I’ve done in advocacy around the community. The conversations I was having with road-safety advocates were around how do we improve monitoring and enforcement on our streets,” he told CityNews.

The means-tested traffic fine motion goes hand in hand with another motion the councillor is putting forward on traffic enforcement cameras.

So far, Phelps Bondaroff says his proposal is being well-received by people in his community.

“I think a lot of people are looking for municipalities to explore new ways of improving road safety. Road safety has been a huge issue here in Saanich,” he explained, noting deaths on local roads are still happening far too often.

“Also, the equity lens is really important. As we move forward with improving road safety, we have to make sure that the measures we’re taking aren’t disproportionately impacting people with low income or different types of road users, vulnerable road users for example.”

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