Vehicle Laws 101 – Know Your Rights and Responsibilities

As the owner or driver of a vehicle on Ontario’s roads, you have a number of rights and responsibilities, most of which are governed by Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act. These can be divided into three broad categories: driving a vehicle, buying a vehicle, and dealing with tickets.

Driving a Vehicle

Before you can drive any vehicle on Ontario’s roads, you need to have a valid driver’s license. The license you require depends on what vehicle you are driving:

  • Class G allows you to drive any car, van or small truck.  This is a basic license that all drivers must have, with the exception of motorcyclists.  Any additional licenses can only be obtained after acquiring this license.
  • Class B, C, E and F allow you to drive a bus, with classes B and E allowing you to drive a school bus.
  • Class F allows you to drive an ambulance in addition to a bus.
  • Classes A and D allow you to drive large transport trucks and rigs.
  • Class M allows you to drive a motorcycle.

Before you are allowed on the road, your vehicle must also be insured – failure to insure your vehicle can carry a fine between $5,000-50,000.  This insurance must include:

  • Third Party Liability Coverage of at least $200,000.  This provides coverage in case you kill or injure somebody in a car accident, or damage somebody’s property.
  • Statutory Accident Benefits Coverage.  This provides you with coverage if you are injured in an auto accident.
  • Direct Compensation – Property Damage.  This provides compensation for damage to your property if another person was at fault, but only when the accident occurs in Ontario.
  • Uninsured Automobile Coverage.  This provides you with coverage if you are in an accident where the other driver is not insured.

If you witness or are in an accident, you have an obligation to remain on the scene and provide assistance if you can, both to those involved in the accident and to the police.  Failure to do so after being in an accident is known as “hitting and running,” and is a serious offense, particularly if somebody was hurt.

Buying a Vehicle

If you are buying a new vehicle, it is assumed to be “fit” –  safe and clean on the road.  However, if you are buying or transferring ownership of a used vehicle that is older than the current year, you have an obligation to ensure that it will pass both emissions and safety in order for it to be considered fit.

The emissions test, or Drive Clean test, is a test to ensure that the car is not emitting pollution levels above provincial standards. This test must be performed before the sale or transfer of any vehicle, and a current Drive Clean certificate must be presented upon transfer of ownership, or the ownership will not be transferred.  It must also be performed every two years once a vehicle is seven years old or older.

There are, however, some exceptions:

  • Emissions tests are not required for light-use vehicles made before 1988, vehicles plated as “historic” under the Highway Traffic Act, hybrids, commercial farm vehicles, motorcycles or kit cars.
  • An emission test certificate is not required if you are transferring the vehicle to immediate family, including parents, spouses, and children.

The Safety Standards Certificate (SSC) is used to ensure that any vehicle on the road is safe to drive.  A used car without an SSC is not considered “fit,” and cannot have license plates attached to it or be registered in your name.

Like the emissions test, there are some exceptions where an SSC is not required:

  • When a car is being transferred from one spouse to another.
  • When the vehicle in question is a moped, trailer, off-road vehicle, or motorized snow vehicle.

Dealing with Tickets

It is likely that at some point during most drivers’ lives, they are going to receive a parking or speeding ticket of some sort.  These are part of a legal process in which you have a number of rights and responsibilities.

It is important to note that a parking or speeding ticket by itself is not a conviction.  It is, instead, the equivalent of being charged with an offense.  Just paying the fine is the equivalent of pleading guilty, and may cause additional penalties, such as demerit points or an increase in your insurance fees.

You do, however, have the right to appear before a judge or justice of the peace in the Provincial Offences Court and plead not guilty.  The officer who issued the ticket is required to appear to give evidence in the case against you – if he or she fails to do so, the ticket will usually be dismissed.  Likewise, if there are extenuating circumstances, you can plead guilty with an explanation, and the traffic court may reduce or suspend the sentence.

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