On Friday, Aug. 7, 1997 at 10 p.m., I received a speeding ticket inside Fort Frances town limits. The ticket was for doing 78 km/h in a 50 km/h zone.
However, since I am from Iowa, and this was my first time in Canada, I knew nothing about the Canadian speed system and thus, I had no idea that the posted speed limit for “50” meant km/h instead of miles per hour. (Later on, I found out that my actual speed in miles per hour was 47 mph which I thought at the time placed me within the legal speed limit).
I asked the officer what 78 km/h was in miles per hour, and he said he didn’t know. Then I said that I had not noticed any warning sign at Customs advising people about the Canadian speed system.
The officer said that the speed limit sign says km/h at the bottom. However, it was at night, and as I looked at the sign from about 50 feet away, which was illuminated by my car’s headlights, I could not make out the “km/h" because it is on a black background. All that was visible in the light was the "50” on a white background, which I had believed to mean 50 miles per hour.
After a brief discussion, the officer gave me a ticket for $130, which is about twice what a comparable ticket would cost in Iowa. Then I returned through Customs, where they again charged me the $2.50 fee, and I still did not notice any signs warning people about the change in speed system. I asked the Customs officer why people weren’t warned, and they replied that they couldn’t tell everyone who comes in.
Also, when I telephoned the provincial court on Aug. 13 from Iowa, I asked the court people why there were no signs. They said that there was a sign posted just outside Fort Frances as you are leaving town but the place where I got the ticket was still inside town limits.
I left Canada over the weekend, and therefore, I was unable to speak about this in person.
For these reasons, I feel there was some degree of lack of fairness involved in my receiving a ticket, and this was amplified by the extremely high fine compared to fines in my home state of Iowa. I think it is understandable that Canadians, and those Americans living in border states, may take the Canadian speed system for granted, and thus believe that everyone else knows the rules. But people further south do not hear about Canadian issues, nor listen to Canadian radio, and for this reason, they can often be, as in my case, completely unaware of the different speed system.
In my letter to the provincial court, I requested a reduction in the amount of the fine, or a change to a simple warning ticket, because of the above reasons, and also because I live in Iowa, which is 700 miles (about 1,300 km) south of the Canadian border, and therefore, it would cost far more than the ticket to contest it in court.
I hope the people of Canada can become aware of this problem and make appropriate changes, and thus, make a visit to Canada somewhat more pleasing for unwitting strangers.
Thank you for your kind attention!