B.C. drivers who ignore speeding tickets in Washington state are getting a nasty surprise when they head south of the border.
A growing number is being arrested for driving with suspended licenses in Washington. Many believe that U.S. law enforcement does not apply to them, but a B.C. driver’s licence is automatically suspended three months after a ticket is issued.
“They think ‘oh whatever, what can they do?’” said Blaine immigration lawyer Len Saunders, “but they can be arrested.”
Saunders said over the past six months he has seen an influx of cars with B.C. licence plates in the Blaine court parking lot every Wednesday, the day court is in session. He said people don’t realize the seriousness of not paying a traffic ticket anywhere in the United States, not just in Washington.
“If you have a previous unpaid speeding ticket and you’re in the driver’s seat and you’re caught driving,” said Saunders, “you will be summoned to appear in criminal court in Blaine.”
A driver has to have been issued a ticket, ignored it, then notified about the suspension, ignored that, then when they come back across the border and they are stopped while driving again they are issued a new criminal charge. At that point the officer can cite and release them for a mandatory court date or they can be booked into jail. When they come to court they also have the right to a trial and an attorney.
Saunders said he has seen it himself at the Peace Arch border crossing where someone has tried to cross the border with a suspended licence after ignoring a court summons, and a Blaine police officer shows up to arrest them.
“It’s interesting in Blaine, they’re very strict [about] enforcing the traffic,” he said.
The maximum penalty for driving with a suspended licence is a $1,000 fine and 90 days in jail, although the typical penalty is a $500 or $600 fine on top of the unpaid speeding ticket of $150.
However, if the driver has a Nexus card they could also lose that, as driving while suspended is a criminal misdemeanor.
Saunders said if a person with an overdue U.S. speeding ticket appears in court and the case is dismissed, they will get their Nexus card back. However, if they pay a fine and plead guilty they will not be able to get their Nexus card back for 10 years. Saunders said a person cannot hold a Nexus card with one U.S. misdemeanor, or one Canadian Summary Offence.