Ajax, Ont. resident Mike Mariano had his licence suspended a couple of weeks ago. He hadn't paid the fine he’d incurred for driving with expired insurance — in 1999.
Mariano is one of the many unlucky drivers in the GTA getting hit with unexpected licence suspensions since the City of Toronto began cracking down on decades-old traffic tickets.
The recent slew of suspensions is being issued by the Ministry of Transportation, taking direction from the city, which is sifting through unpaid fines as far back as the 1980s and forwarding the information to the ministry.
Driving with a suspended licence can dramatically increase your auto insurance rates and put you in a higher-risk category, which not only will drive up the cost of your premiums but could put you at risk for not being able to obtain traditional auto insurance.
Drivers are angry the province didn't warn them of the pending suspension before initiating it.
Mariano is left wondering why, for the last 20 years, he was able to renew his licence every year and not given any warning that he would still have to pay the $7,000 fine one day.
“It’s a cash grab,” Mariano told the Star. “They totally disrupt people’s lives. Would it hurt to be a little more empathetic?”
Anne Miller, who lives in Udora, Ont., received a letter from the ministry on May 25, alerting her that her licence had been suspended three weeks prior for failing to pay an $88.25 speeding ticket she received in Scarborough in 1989.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Miller told the Star. “I’ve only been pulled over four times and I don’t remember this at all.”
According to OTT Legal, a law firm specializing in helping drivers resolve traffic and speeding tickets, the penalty for driving with a suspended licence includes a $1,000 fine, an additional six-month suspension (for a first offence), a significant increase in auto insurance rates, and a possible six months in jail. The penalty rises to $5,000 for driving under suspensions that involved alcohol.
Daniel Jenner of OTT Legal told the Star that he’s been getting “a flood” of calls related to old fines.
“These fines follow you until death,” Jenner said. “They survive bankruptcy, everything. The court at any point can come back and suspend your licence for that fine.”
According to Miller, who had to pay Service Ontario $275 to reinstate her licence, the letter used her maiden name, which was spelled incorrectly. The court records also used her grandmother’s address, not hers.
Ministry spokesperson Chelsea Dolan told the Star that the ministry is looking at potential changes to the system.
“The ministry is currently reviewing this process, including how and when drivers are notified of their licence suspension, to determine if there are any changes we need to consider,” she said.
According to Dolan, drivers can pay fines incurred on or after May 1, 2010, at a Service Ontario location. Fines older than that, however, must be paid at a courthouse.
Susan Garossino, the city’s director of court services, told the Star that drivers can email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out if they have any unpaid fines.
Still, that doesn’t take away from the frustration people like Mariano and Miller are facing.
“Why doesn’t the right hand look at the left hand — find the new address, make the call or send the letter, give them 21 days to pay and if they don’t pay then suspend them?” Miller said.
“They really know how to screw people over.”