Dangerous Driving & Expressing Yourself After A World Cup Win!

June 28, 2010

The second part of our continuing look at the interaction between World Cup celebrations and the criminal justice system relates to driving motor vehicles. To recap, during the World Cup it is common to see people hanging off of cars, waving flags and honking their horns. It is important to exercise caution when you take that celebratory tour around town. The driver remains responsible for the care and control of the vehicle during World Cup. The driving rules are not suspended during the World Cup celebrations. The police have the authority to charge drivers caught driving dangerously or carelessly. Whether the police choose to lay a dangerous driving or careless driving charge will depend on the nature of the unlawful driving. The spectrum of unlawful driving ranges from the more serious, such as speeding through red lights, to the less serious, such as incomplete stops. Are you wondering what kind of World Cup driving practices can lead to these kinds of charges? Before driving off with your flag hanging out of the car window, you should familiarize yourself with the dangerous driving and careless driving laws. Under the Canadian Criminal Code "dangerous driving" is a criminal offence. According to section 249 of the Code:

249. (1) Every one commits an offence who operates

(a) a motor vehicle in a manner that is dangerous to the public, having regard to all the circumstances, including the nature, condition and use of the place at which the motor vehicle is being operated and the amount of traffic that at the time is or might reasonably be expected to be at that place;

This section makes it an offence to drive a motor vehicle in a manner that is dangerous to the public. A conviction under this section results in a criminal record and an automatic 1 year driving suspension. This is a hybrid offence. The prosecutor has the discretion to proceed either by indictment or summarily depending on the actual driving. In practice, unless someone suffers significant bodily harm or the offender has a severe previous record for similar offences, the Prosecutor will elect to proceed summarily. If the prosecutor elects to proceed by way of indictment, the maximum punishment for the offence is five years imprisonment. The basis of liability for a dangerous driving charge is negligence. That means the court is not concerned with whether the driver intended to drive dangerously but rather they are concerned with whether objectively the driver exercised a reasonable standard of care.

Dangerous Driving under the Criminal Code is a separate offence from Careless Driving under the Highway Traffic Act. According to section 130 of the Highway Traffic Act;

Every person is guilty of the offence of driving carelessly who drives a vehicle or street car on a highway without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the highway and on conviction is liable to a fine of not less than $400 and not more than $2,000 or to imprisonment for a term of not more than six months, or to both, and in addition his or her licence or permit may be suspended for a period of not more than two years

This is a Provincial offence. A conviction for careless driving will not result in a criminal record. A careless driving conviction will result in demerit points, a minimum fine of $400 and increased insurance premiums. A conviction can also lead to imprisonment for up to six months and a license suspension for up to two years. The standard of driving which will attract a careless driving charge is less severe than driving which attracts a dangerous driving charge. The Ontario Court of Appeal has stated that driving is deemed careless when it is seen as a “breach of the duty to the public and deserving of punishment”.  The Court will consider whether, in light of the circumstances, the driver failed to use care or failed to give others using the highway the consideration that an ordinary driver would have given.  “Highway” includes a common and public highway, street, avenue, parkway, driveway, square, place, bridge, viaduct or trestle, any part of which is intended for or used by the general public for the passage of vehicles and includes the area between lateral property lines. The degree of care drivers are expected to exercise depends on the prevailing circumstances.

During the World Cup finals, the streets are filled with fans and passengers of motor vehicles enjoy hanging out windows with flags in hand.  Drivers will be expected to exercise caution in these circumstances in spite of the fact that their favourite team has won an important game. Drivers should ensure that passenger conduct does not inhibit their ability to exercise care when driving through fan filled streets.

In the spectrum of unlawful driving, where does the division between careless and dangerous driving fall? The Supreme Court of Canada interpreted the meaning of “dangerous” driving in R v Hundal [1993] S.C.J. No. 29. In that case the Court clarified three important points. First, the level of negligence the prosecutor must prove to secure a conviction is “a marked departure from the standard of care that a reasonable driver would observe under the circumstances”. The offensive driving must be so out of the ordinary that a reasonable person would consider the operation of the vehicle dangerous. Therefore, minor mistakes and accidents that could have happened to anyone exercising care, will not amount to dangerous driving. In practice, a dangerous driving charge is likely to be laid in circumstances where it appears that the driver was driving recklessly. If you are the driver of a vehicle celebrating a World Cup win you should refrain from hanging out the window as you drive, and be reminded that the ordinary traffic rules are still in force.  The bar may be somewhat lowered to allow for jubilant expression during the World Cup. However, where the celebration puts other motorists or passengers in the driver’s car at risk, a Court is likely to consider such conduct as a marked departure from that of a reasonable driver exercising care. In these circumstances, charges of Dangerous Driving under the Criminal Code, or Careless Driving under the Highway Traffic Act, may be laid.

In deciding whether “driving” is dangerous contrary to the Criminal Code, a Court will consider the nature of the location including, the driving conditions, the way the location is being used and any other prevalent factors. These considerations are particularly important for drivers trying to get through World Cup traffic. During game celebrations, especially during the finals, the streets are filled with cars, pedestrians, bicycles, motorcycles, etc.  Drivers are expected to exercise more caution when driving in these circumstances.  A dangerous driving charge is more likely to result in situations where the unlawful driving lead to serious consequences, such as serious injury or death. When the unlawful driving does not cause injury or death but nevertheless fall outside the scope of reasonable care, a careless driving charge is more likely. In the event of a charge of “dangerous driving” or “careless driving”, the accused can offer an explanation for his/her abnormal driving.  For example, the driver may have experienced a sudden onset of illness. In order to accept an explanation as a justification, the court must be satisfied that a reasonable person in the accused circumstances would have acted in a similar way. During World Cup season many passengers and drivers will be celebrated excitedly inside their moving vehicles.  The driver of a vehicle is responsible for the behaviour of their passengers, especially if it affects the driver’s ability to drive safely or puts their passengers at risk. Celebrate responsibly.  If you have been charged with Dangerous Driving or Careless Driving, contact Kostman and Pyzer, Barristers for the best defence.

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