In Ontario, driving without regard for the safety of others on the road can result in a charge of dangerous driving or careless driving. The difference between these two charges is that dangerous driving is a criminal offence under the Criminal Code of Canada, and careless driving is not. Careless driving is referred to as a regulatory or quasi-criminal offence, and is considered a serious charge under the Ontario Highway Traffic Act. A conviction for careless driving may result in serious consequences such as a fine, jail, or loss of license, but will not result in a criminal record for the offender.
The main difference between dangerous driving and careless driving is that a charge of careless driving means a person’s driving has fallen below the minimum standard expected of a careful driver. It also includes driving without reasonable consideration for others on the road. Dangerous driving is participating in any form of driving that creates a risk to the public. A skilled and experienced criminal defence lawyer will be able to help you better under the charges you are facing and will be able to help you to build a strong defence in order to have these charges reduced or dismissed altogether.
What is Dangerous Driving?
Prior to 2018, dangerous driving was known as ‘dangerous operation of a motor vehicle’. Since 2018, the Criminal Code of Canada has replaced that legislation with s. 320.13(1). This section now regulates everyone who operates a conveyance in a way that poses a danger to the public. The term conveyance includes not just motor vehicles but also vessels, aircrafts, and trains.
In R v Beatty (2008), the Supreme Court of Canada provided that a successful conviction of dangerous driving requires a “marked departure” from normal driving conduct. In addition, the Court stated, “a moment of lapse of attention, in the context of totally normal driving is insufficient to establish the marked departure required for the offence of dangerous driving.” The court further clarifies that drivers are not held to a standard of perfection and, “even good drivers are occasionally subject to momentary lapses of attention,” but their actions, “generally will not rise to the level of a marked departure required for a conviction for dangerous driving.”
Ultimately, the term “dangerous” looks to include any kind of irresponsible driving. This section aims to criminalize driving behaviours that pose a safety risk to the public, even if they don’t result in an accident.
Things that are considered dangerous driving in Canada:
Since there is no clear definition for what actions are, or are not, dangerous driving, the police have a fair amount of discretion in determining if someone is driving in a way that is markedly unreasonable given all the conditions and circumstances. Circumstances which may increase the chances of your driving being considered ‘dangerous’ may include changes to the weather or traffic.
Here are some examples of what could be considered ‘dangerous driving’:
Careless lane changes
Driving over road lines or curbs
Failure to obey road signs
Charge for Dangerous Driving
The charge for dangerous driving can be found in the Criminal Code of Canada under section 320.13(1):
“Everyone commits an offence who operates a conveyance in a manner that, having regard to all of the circumstances, is dangerous to the public.”
A successful conviction for dangerous driving will require that the Crown prosecutor demonstrate two elements. First, the accused was driving in a way that was dangerous to the public. Secondly, they must show that, given the conditions and circumstances, the accused intended to drive in a way that was dangerous to the public. What is considered to be ‘dangerous to the public’ will be weighed against how a reasonable driver would have acted under the same set of circumstances.
Sections 320.13(2) and 320.13(3) of the Criminal Code are considered to be related charges that carry more serious penalties. If you are charged with either of these offences it means that there has been bodily harm or death involved in the incident and consequently they result in more severe penalties.
Penalty for Dangerous Driving
A successful conviction under section 320.13 of the Criminal Code can result in penalties of:
A criminal record;
A potential jail sentence. The length of this sentence will depend on the severity of the incident.
Dangerous operation – a term of up to 10 years
Dangerous operation causing bodily harm – a term up to a maximum of 14 years; and
Dangerous operation causing death – a term up to a maximum of life
A possible fine of no less than $1,000.00
A possible suspension of your license.
How to Fight a Dangerous Driving Charge
In the event that you are charged with dangerous driving under section 320.13 of the Criminal Code, a skilled defence lawyer can help. There are a variety of factors that can reduce a sentence for dangerous driving, or even convince the court to reduce the charge to a lesser non-criminal charge, like careless driving. An experienced criminal lawyer can help build a strong defence and help you understand all your potential options and outcomes.
What Is Careless Driving?
Careless driving is a non-criminal driving offence contained in the Ontario Highway Traffic Act. Careless driving carries many of the same penalties as dangerous driving, including fines, imprisonment, and license suspension. That being said, a successful conviction of careless driving does not appear on your criminal record. A successful conviction or traffic ticket will however appear on your driving record. Generally, any behaviour that could result in a careless driving charge includes anything that could be considered unsafe or irresponsible driving behaviour. Many of these behaviours are similar to those that are considered to be ‘dangerous driving’.
Here are some examples:
Texting while driving
Running red lights
Failing to pay attention to pedestrians or other vehicles
Charge for Careless Driving
Careless driving is a non-criminal driving offence which can be found under section 130(1) of the Ontario 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.”
The term ‘highway’ refers to streets, driveways, bridges and other areas intended for vehicle use by the general public. Similar to dangerous driving, a momentary lapse in judgment is usually not enough to justify a conviction for careless driving. Drivers are not expected to be perfect, but to adhere to the standard of what an average, careful, and prudent driver would do in the same circumstances.
Unlike dangerous driving, a successful conviction for careless driving requires that a Crown prosecutor only prove that an accused was driving in a way that could be considered careless given the circumstances. They do not need to demonstrate that an accused had any intention of driving carelessly.
In the event of a more serious incident, it is possible to be charged under section 130(3) of the Ontario Highway Traffic Act: careless driving causing bodily harm or death.
Penalty for Careless Driving
If you are charged with careless driving in Ontario, you could face penalties of:
A fine of not less than $400 and not more than $2000;
A prison term of not more than six months; and
A license suspension for a period of not more than two years
6 demerit points added to your driving record;
Higher insurance rates
If you are charged with careless driving causing bodily harm or death, you could face penalties of:
A fine of not less than $2000 and not more than $50,000; or
A prison term of not more than two years; and
A license suspension for a period of not more than five years;
6 demerit points added to your driving record
Higher insurance rates
How to Fight a Careless Driving Charge in Canada
Being charged with careless driving can result in a variety of penalties. If you are guilty and receive a fine and are able to afford to pay it, it might be in your best interest to just pay the fine and move on. However, you will still receive demerit points on your driving record and there will still be consequences from your insurer.
If you feel you have been treated unfairly or received a more serious careless driving ticket that will result in a court hearing, you may benefit from legal advice. Additionally, you may benefit from legal advice to explain how to plead guilty and ask for a lower sentence.
Contact an Experienced Defence Lawyer Today
The team at Pyzer Criminal Lawyers is experienced in dealing with dangerous driving and careless driving matters. To speak with a member of our legal team give us a call at 416-658-1818 or request a free case evaluation on our website, torontodefencelawyers.com.
Legal Review By:
Criminal Defence Lawyer (B.A., L.L.B.)
Jonathan Pyzer, B.A., L.L.B, distinguished McGill University and University of Western Ontario alumnus, is a dedicated criminal defence lawyer throughout Ontario. Co-founder of Kostman & Pyzer, Barristers, he focuses on defending individual rights.