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Stop Sign Versus Red Light

Is there really a difference between a red light and a stop sign?

In Ontario, two of the more prevalent traffic tickets that prospective clients brought through our door during the summer of 2016 involved a driver allegedly failing to stop for either a red light or stop sign. In further detail, these are two offences that, while their premise may be similar – that being, not coming to a complete stop – they are actually two separate offences under the Ontario Highway Traffic Act.

Section 144(18) – Failing to stop for a red light is the more severe of the two offences if we look at the monetary fine involved upon conviction. If an individual pleads guilty, whether in court or deeming not to dispute, or is found guilty after a trial, they can expect to pay a fine of $260, plus costs. Costs include a victim fine surcharge which is a set fine as set out in an Ontario Regulation made under the Highway Traffic Act, and a minimal cost for appearing in court.

In the alternative, if an individual is charged under section 136(1)(a), failing to stop for a stop sign, or disobeying a stop sign as it is sometimes referred to as, the monetary fine is not the same as its red light brethren. Instead, upon conviction the amount payable to the court is $85.00, plus costs.

At this point in the article, you are probably asking yourself, “why is there such a notable difference in the fines associated with the conviction for each offence?”

While we could spend much of a lifetime debating why we have laws, or certain laws, and why or how penalties are set for offences, we are not going to go into too much detail in answering this question. Maybe the fine is much higher for failing to stop for a red light, as opposed to failing to stop for a stop sign, because generally speaking, traffic control lights, or stop lights, tend to be placed to control busy intersections with a high volume of both vehicle and pedestrian traffic. Or maybe there are more accidents, injuries, or fatalities concerning cases where an individual fails to stop at a red light. It is not for us to debate at this time.

Monetary fines aside, it is also important for us to address two other concerns that a person charged with failing to stop for a red light / stop sign should care about. Those being, demerit points and insurance premiums.

Remember at the start of the article when we said these offences were similar in nature? When it comes to the demerit points that the Ministry of Transportation applies to your driver’s licence once a conviction is registered it is the same for both offences. If convicted of either failing to stop for a red light, or stop sign, the MTO will apply three (3) demerit points to your licence.

When assessing how a conviction for either of these offences will impact your insurance premiums, one must first understand the classification of offences. This is easily done by looking at the total number of demerit points that may be applied to your licence upon conviction. Keep this in mind:

Minor: 3 demerit points, or less
Major: 4 demerit points
Serious: 6 demerit points, or more

Thus, with the above information in mind, we can see that both of the offences that this article is discussing are classified as “minor” offences. In our experience, and through information provided to us from our past clients, we can indicate that if you have a clean driving record and are convicted of a single, minor offence, we have seen that insurance companies will not generally increase premiums for an isolated incident. However, the more minor offences that you accumulate over a short period of time, we have seen premiums increase as little as 5% per minor offence on your driving abstract, or as high as 15%. It is important that you review your insurance policy for accurate information.

As we draw nearer to this article’s conclusion, it is important to reflect on, and summarize, the potential penalties for the topic offences we have been discussing.

Section 144(18) – Failing to Stop for a Red Light is punishable by way of a $260 (plus cost) monetary fine, three (3) demerit points, and a minimal risk to increase your insurance premiums.

Section 136(1)(a) – Failing to Stop for a Stop Sign (or Disobey Stop Sign) is punishable by way of an $85 (plus costs) monetary fine, three (3) demerit points, and a minimal risk to increase your insurance premiums.

A tip you should remember when approaching an intersection controlled by a stop light or stop sign, is that driving instructions tend to suggest to young drivers that you have come to a complete stop when enough pressure has been applied to the brakes so that forward momentum has halted and you can feel the momentum shift from the front of the vehicle to the back.

If you do find yourself on the receiving end of a charge for failing to stop for a red light / stop sign, it is in your best interest to give one of the experienced paralegals at Aitken Robertson a call as there are always options available to the accused. These options include running potential defences to seek a complete dismissal of the charge(s), or to carefully enter into negotiations that would result is less demerit points, less in terms of a monetary penalty, and even less of a risk to increase insurance premiums. Call today.