The province is modernizing how drivers are informed that their licences are suspended following a series of stories in the Star.
Ontario ombudsman Paul Dubé began examining the Ministry of Transportation’s practices after the Star reported that some drivers had unwittingly continued to drive with suspended licences — in some cases, for years.
A key problem the probe identified was the ministry’s reliance on regular mail when it came to notifying the 90,000 motorists who have their licences pulled annually for unpaid traffic fines, Dubé said Thursday at Queen’s Park.
“Once we prompted them to track it closely, they determined that thousands of the suspension notices they send are returned, undelivered, each year,” he said. “But the ministry doesn’t track returned mail, so it has no record of which drivers didn’t get their notices.”
Last year, 5,000 notices of suspension were returned to the Ministry of Transportation undelivered.
Dubé said he was pleased that the ministry has already started work on “most of my 42 recommendations.”
Under its new procedures, the ministry will remind drivers of any licence suspension or defaulted fines when they renew their licence stickers, which is done every one or two years.
Driver’s licences are only renewed every five years.
As well, drivers will now be able to pay their fines — for offences since May 1, 2017 — and licence reinstatement fees through ServiceOntario’s online portal and at its physical outlets.
The ombudsman’s probe was sparked by a series of stories by the Star’s Norris McDonald last year.
McDonald reported the plight of James Strachan, a 40-year-old Leslieville resident, who learned four years after the fact that his licence had been suspended since 2013.
That was because he had forgotten to pay a speeding ticket for going 15 km/h above the speed limit on Hwy. 401 near Oshawa.
Strachan paid his $150 fine five months late, but his licence, which had been suspended without his knowledge, was not reinstated.
An offender normally has 15 days to either pay a fine or fight a ticket in court. If no action is taken, the licence can be suspended.
Strachan only learned he was driving under suspension when he was pulled over by Ontario Provincial Police last year.
He had been able to renew his licence plate sticker twice, purchase another car, and renew his auto insurance without anyone pointing out his licence was suspended.
More than 100 readers came forward after the Star published his story, and Dubé heard from 200 motorists during his probe.
Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie