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Driver owes $158K in fines: 'You never know what you're going to find'

Last Updated Nov 10, 2017 at 12:40 pm PST

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – Newfoundland police are calling it “extraordinary”— officers recently stopped a driver who owes $158,000 in unpaid fines.

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary says the 33-year-old man was allegedly caught driving with a suspended driver’s licence and no insurance on Thursday morning in St. John’s.

Then officers discovered the man owes $158,000 in outstanding fines.

“This is extraordinarily high compared to what I would normally see,” said Const. Geoff Higdon in an interview on Friday. “When we’re doing these stops, you never know what you’re going to find.”

The man was held for a court appearance.

Higdon said outstanding fines of $10,000 and even $20,000 are not uncommon, as fines for infractions such as driving without insurance can quickly rack up for repeat offenders.

But he conceded $158,000 in unpaid fines is unusual.

Higdon said it’s possible the fines are not all related to driving infractions.

“When an individual is stopped with outstanding fines, it doesn’t necessary mean the fines were all accumulated for violations under the Highway Traffic Act,” said Higdon. “It could have been fines handed down as a result of other violations of provincial regulations.”

Higdon said police are not responsible for enforcing fine payments.

Someone who is pulled over for a driving infraction and found to have hefty unpaid fines would be held for court rather than being issued a ticket, as was the case for this driver, he said.

Lesley Clarke, spokeswoman for the provincial justice department, said anyone owing $300 or more in fines are registered in Supreme Court, and civil action “such as wage attachments, bank garnishments and property seizure” can be initiated.

“Approximately 80 per cent of people pay their fines voluntarily. This is an issue across the country and we continue to look for creative, cost-effective ways to collect outstanding fines,” she said in an email.

The Newfoundland and Labrador government on Thursday introduced legislation that would increase penalties for a number of driving offences under the Highway Traffic Act.

For example, the fine for driving without a licence would increase to a maximum of $1,600 after the second offence, up from $500.

The province said the aim of the legislation is to make roads safer and to deter unsafe practices.