Can I go to jail for driving while prohibited?
Driving while prohibited is considered one of the most serious offences in the Motor Vehicle Act. Until just a decade ago, a first offence meant automatic jail. The act that leads to the first charge of a driving while prohibited offence can be fairly innocent. Let’s say police suspected you of being impaired by drugs and give you a 24-hour prohibition, even though you weren’t impaired. Unfortunately for you, you decided to drive before the 24 hours was up and police pull you over.
The fact you were driving before that 24-hour prohibition was up is good enough for a driving while prohibited offence, which if convicted, means you’re automatically prohibited from driving for another 12 months. This means violating a driving ban that was intended to initially last only a single day could easily extend to 365 days! All for a simple mistake.
And in addition to that 12-month driving prohibition, you may receive a $500 to $2,000 fine, and up to six months’ jailtime. Even more unfortunately, the law does not have a requirement that drivers must be notified of this 12-month automatic driving prohibition. It uses this language: A person who is convicted of an offence under section 95 … is automatically and without notice prohibited from driving a motor vehicle for 12 months from the date of sentencing. So many are surprised that they are even prohibited from driving at all. They go on to drive before their prohibition is up and trigger even longer driving prohibitions.
Here’s what BC’s driving while prohibited legislation (s. 95 of the Motor Vehicle Act) says:
(1) A person who drives a motor vehicle on a highway or industrial road knowing that
(a) he or she is prohibited from driving a motor vehicle under section 91, 92, 93, 94.2, 215, 215.43 or 251 (4)
commits an offence and is liable,
(c) on a first conviction, to a fine of not less than $500 and not more than $2,000 or to imprisonment for not more than 6 months, or to both, and
(d) on a subsequent conviction, regardless of when the contravention occurred, to a fine of not less than $500 and not more than $2,000 and to imprisonment of not less than 14 days and not more than one year.
Many drivers were not aware they have been prohibited at all
It is often the case that when a police officer pulls over a driver on suspicion of driving while prohibited, that the driver didn’t know about the prohibition at all.
In a 2010 case in Nelson, the court accepted that the driver genuinely didn’t know he was prohibited from driving. He had been sent a driving prohibition notice in the mail, picked it up and signed for it, but was in a rush to get to a forest fire where he was serving as a firefighter. He kept the unopened letter in his car, but on his return his car was towed. It was when he borrowed his mother’s car that he was stopped by police, for driving while prohibited.
The court determined that even though the driver did not know he was prohibited, he should have known. Here’s what the judge said:
“While I have some sympathy for (the driver), particularly as I accept that he ultimately forgot about this letter, I am convinced that any reasonable person having signed for a registered letter in the circumstances as outlined in this case would have gone one step further and satisfied him or herself of the contents of the letter. In circumstances such as these, a reasonable person would have opened the registered letter either at the post office or, if he or she was in a rush, at the next possible opportunity.”
An example like this is often how it starts. An innocent act. Now this man is automatically, and without notice, prohibited from driving for 12 months. If for some reason he was unaware of this and drives again, he’ll be given an even longer driving prohibition and potentially face jail.
When have drivers been sentenced to go to jail for driving while prohibited?
It happens more often than you think. Take this example. A man was stopped three times by police in Delta and Surrey between November 2015 and February 2016 for driving while prohibited. The first time he was stopped, he was identified by an automated licence plate reader due to an automatic 12-month driving prohibition.
Five days later, he was again pulled over after trying to avoid a roadblock in Surrey. The last offence occurred in February 2016, when he again tried to avoid a roadblock but was pulled over by police.
When the case came to court, the judge sentenced the driver to a five-year driving prohibition for the first offence, plus a $500 fine. The second offence resulted in a 240-day jail term, in addition to another $500 fine, plus another five-year driving prohibition. The third offence resulted in a 300-day jail term, plus another $300 fine and another five-year driving prohibition. The only saving grace for this driver was how the judge decided he could serve the sentences concurrently, which means his total jail term for driving while prohibited was 300 days.
Police have accused me of driving while prohibited. What should I do?
Call a lawyer immediately. The law in British Columbia that governs driving while prohibited legislation is extremely complex and is filled with pitfalls that continues to punish drivers for longer and longer terms. The most important step is to challenge the first driving prohibition, to prevent the risk of subsequent prohibitions for driving while prohibited.
If you did not successfully challenge the first driving prohibition, and are now facing allegations of driving while prohibited, know that this can result in a jail sentence and even longer driving prohibitions. As lawyers experienced in driving prohibitions and driving matters, we know the ins and outs of defending driving while prohibited allegations. Don’t go to jail for driving while prohibited. Call us today at 604-685-8889. We are happy to discuss your case.