Ombudsman targets province’s driver licence suspension system - Ministry agrees to modernize cumbersome, confusing notification process

Ombudsman targets province’s driver licence suspension system - Ministry agrees to modernize cumbersome, confusing notification process

September 27, 2018

27 September, 2018

Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé today called on the Ministry of Transportation to overhaul the way it notifies drivers whose licences are suspended for unpaid fines – a process his investigation found to be unreasonable, unjust and wrong.

TORONTO (September 27, 2018) – Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé today called on the Ministry of Transportation to overhaul the way it notifies drivers whose licences are suspended for unpaid fines – a process his investigation found to be unreasonable, unjust and wrong.

The Ombudsman’s latest report, Suspended State, details systemic problems with the Ministry’s communications, record-keeping and customer service that have resulted in too many people unwittingly driving with invalid licences.

Noting that drivers are responsible for paying their fines, Mr. Dubé points out it is the Ministry’s responsibility to notify them when they have lost their privilege to drive – and his investigation found it lacking on several fronts. “The notices are confusing, complicated and poorly formatted, and never actually state that failure to pay a fine will result in licence suspension,” he writes in the report.

A key problem is that the Ministry sends suspension notices by mail, but doesn’t track the estimated 4% that are returned undelivered. “Thousands of drivers never receive these notices, or are confused by them,” he writes. “Unaware that their licences are invalid, they continue to drive, at considerable personal and financial risk – to themselves and others.”

Even when notices are delivered, the system is fundamentally flawed in two ways, the Ombudsman revealed. Drivers are only ever warned that failure to pay fines “may” – not “will” – result in licence suspension. And suspensions actually take effect on the day they are mailed – before drivers receive them.

“Fairness requires that the Ministry provide drivers with specific, advance notice of impending suspensions, as well as information about the steps they must take to avoid them,” says Mr. Dubé, who recommends Ontario bring back the “grace period” it allowed drivers up to 1997.

When drivers try to raise concerns about the process with the Ministry or ServiceOntario, “they often encounter poor customer service or a runaround,” he adds. “As a matter of fairness and road safety, the Ministry must do a better job of informing drivers of their status, rather than leaving them to be caught by surprise.”

The report details the stories of several drivers who complained to the Ombudsman about their licence suspension issues. For example, one woman was shocked to learn in 2016 that her licence had been cancelled four years earlier over a speeding ticket. Although she had paid the speeding fine, she was unaware she had to pay a licence reinstatement fee, and said she never received any notice that her licence was invalid. It ultimately cost her several days off work and hundreds of dollars to reinstate her licence, because the Ministry required her to go through the graduated licence system meant for novice drivers.

In the interest of “protecting the public from the potentially catastrophic consequences of having unknowingly suspended drivers on the road,” the Ombudsman makes 42 recommendations, most of which the Ministry has begun to address. For example, it committed to reviewing the wording and formatting of its notices to drivers, improving its tracking of driver addresses and returned mail, exploring digital tools such as an online portal for driver information, and making its existing online licence status checker tool free of charge.

In its response to the Ombudsman (appended to the report) the Ministry argued that two recommendations to give bureaucrats the flexibility to waive the graduated licensing requirements for drivers in certain circumstances were unnecessary, as staff already have this discretion. Mr. Dubé noted he will monitor this issue as the Ministry reports back to his office every six months on its progress in implementing the other recommendations.

For the full report, backgrounders and video of the Ombudsman’s news conference, go to www.ombudsman.on.ca.


For more information, contact:
Linda Williamson, Director of Communications
416-586-3426, lwilliamson@ombudsman.on.ca