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Debunking the top 5 ‘cop show’ clichés

Published November 13, 2012


Which of the following TV “cop show” clichés are valid under Ontario law?


The crooked local sheriff smashes out a taillight and then tickets the driver for it.

Real life:

False for cars/trucks in daylight, as taillight is not required. In darkness, one taillight out is not a violation under S. 62(1) HTA, provided at least one of the others is working. Taillights are not required to be on in daylight except when visibility drops below 150m ahead. Use arm signals if signal light also broken.

More from Eric Lai:

Top 10 common traffic violation myths

Ten legal loopholes that could void a ticket

Can I get a ticket for rubbernecking?

True for a motorcycle with only one taillight. Once smashed, you no longer have the one working taillight required at all times when on the road under S.62(2) HTA. Use arm signals for braking.

Now, if a “wimpy” TV bad cop were to gently tap out a taillight lens at night but leave the clear bulb intact, this may be a violation as taillights must be red — but that hardly seems intimidating.


Drivers can escape a ticket by crossing the county line.

Real life:

Untrue. Any police officer in Ontario is empowered to act throughout the province. Fleeing police escalates the ticket to a criminal charge.


A driver being chased by police is “home-free” if they manage to get back to their residence, because police can’t enter without a warrant.

Real Life:

False — but subject to later court validation. To oversimplify a complex topic, the doctrine of fresh pursuit states that police can follow a suspect into a residence and make an arrest without warrant. The full legal definition of “fresh pursuit” is available online.

This is by no means a blanket authority. At trial, the court will subsequently determine whether such infringement was necessary, weighing the need to protect the public, apprehend an offender, prevent destruction of evidence (i.e. flushing drugs) and considering the safety of the officer(s).


Police can speed through red lights without stopping.

Real Life:

Not so. Under S. 144(20) HTA, the driver of an emergency vehicle must first stop for a red light, then may proceed through without having to wait for a green light, only if safe to do so. In reality, police might not always come to a full stop, but this is what’s required by law.


Police can ticket drivers who fail to provide identification.

Real Life:

True, but what name do they put on the ticket? (Just kidding) Actually, under S. 33 HTA, drivers can be ticketed for not carrying their licence and, further, can be arrested for refusing to provide their correct name and address.

Information above is of a general nature only. For legal advice or opinion, consult a lawyer — not a fictional TV show.

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