Being charged with a driving offence can be upsetting and confusing, especially if aggravating factors are involved, such as causing harm or driving while impaired. What are the penalties for driving offences in Ontario, and what can you do to defend yourself? Is there a way to have the charges reduced? How can a criminal defence lawyer protect you and ensure the best outcome if your case goes to court? This blog post will review the charges of dangerous driving and careless driving, the penalties for these offences, and the best defence strategies.
Dangerous Driving vs. Careless Driving
In Ontario, you could be charged with dangerous driving or careless driving. The distinction between them has implications for penalties and your defence strategies. Dangerous driving is a criminal offence under the Criminal Code of Canada (the “Code”), whereas careless driving is a traffic offence under the Ontario Highway Traffic Act. The evidentiary requirements are different for dangerous driving than for careless driving, and the penalties are generally lower for careless driving.
What is a Dangerous Driving Charge in Ontario?
Dangerous driving is covered in section 320.13 of the Criminal Code of Canada (the “Code”):
Everyone commits an offence who operates a conveyance in a manner that, having regard to all of the circumstances, is dangerous to the public.
Because the definition is so non-specific, many actions could be considered dangerous driving, including excessive speeding, street racing, stunt driving, intentionally aggressive driving, and running a red light. Note that you do not have to have caused an accident to be charged with dangerous driving.
What Is a Careless Driving Charge in Ontario?
Careless driving is covered in 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.
As you can see, the requirements for a charge of careless driving are similarly imprecise as those for dangerous driving and could include some of the same offences. For example, excessive speeding could be charged as dangerous driving or careless driving.
Penalties for Dangerous Driving
Dangerous driving is a hybrid offence in Canada, meaning that it can be prosecuted either as a summary offence or as an indictable offence, depending on the circumstances and the severity of the offence. A summary offence is considered less serious, while an indictable offence carries stiffer penalties.
If you are convicted of a summary offence, you could face:
- A fine of $1000 on a first offence
- Imprisonment for up to a month on a second offence and up to two years less a day for subsequent offences
- A criminal record
- A one-year license suspension
- Increased insurance rates
If you are indicted and found guilty, you could incur all of the above and up to 14 years in prison. If you are found guilty of dangerous driving causing death, you could receive a life sentence. A conviction could also have severe professional and social consequences for you.
Penalties for Careless Driving
The penalties for careless driving are less severe than for dangerous driving but are nevertheless quite onerous:
- Six demerit points on your driver’s license.
- Fines ranging from $500 to $2,500
- A possible six-month license suspension
- A prison sentence for extreme cases
- Higher insurance rates
How to Fight a Dangerous Driving Charge in Ontario
If you are charged with dangerous driving, your first line of defence is to hire a criminal defence lawyer. An experienced, skilled attorney familiar with traffic laws and the criminal justice system in Ontario will prepare a solid defence to ensure you receive the lowest penalty possible.
The onus is on the Crown to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the crime of dangerous driving. They must show that:
- You were operating a motor vehicle in a location where the public was present or could have been present.
- The driving was dangerous.
- You drove in that manner intentionally.
Your lawyer will analyze the evidence and the circumstances of the driving behaviour to try to find flaws in the Crown’s case. They will begin by questioning the evidence and the manner in which it was collected, checking to see if your rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms were violated.
Your lawyer will challenge as many aspects of the case as are reasonable, including:
- Arguing that the driving was reasonable under the circumstances and was not dangerous.
- That you had a reason for driving the way you did, such as an emergency.
- That a mechanical failure or some other unforeseen issue caused you to drive dangerously.
How to Fight a Careless Driving Charge in Ontario
If you are charged with careless driving in Ontario, hiring a lawyer is your best defence, although your case could also be handled by a paralegal. You should make this decision cautiously, with an eye to any aggravating circumstances (causing harm, driving while impaired, prior convictions, speeding through a school zone, etc.) and the possible penalties you could incur.
To win a conviction, the Crown must show that:
- You were operating a motor vehicle on a public roadway.
- Your driving deviated significantly from the way a reasonable driver would have behaved in the same conditions.
- Your careless driving posed a danger or had the potential to pose a danger to other people or property.
Your legal representative will examine the evidence and any other relevant information to create doubt about these elements of the Crown’s case. Beginning with the manner in which the evidence was collected as well as the credibility of the witnesses, they may also argue that:
- Your driving was cautious and consistent with the way a reasonable person would drive.
- The driving resulted from factors beyond your control, such as mechanical failure, unforeseeable road conditions, or an emergency.
What Can a Careless Driving Charge Be Reduced To?
With good legal representation, you may be able to get the charge reduced to something more minor, such as speeding, following too closely, failing to signal, or obstructing traffic. You may also be able to negotiate for a reduced penalty on the careless driving charge.
If you have been charged with dangerous driving or careless driving in Ontario, a criminal defence lawyer can help you secure a dismissal or a reduced penalty. When it comes to driving offences, you are in excellent hands with Zamani Law. Our team will thoroughly examine the evidence against you, including the credibility of any witnesses the Crown produces, and will analyze the circumstances of the alleged offence to identify flaws in the Crown’s case. With our deep experience in Toronto’s criminal courts and our extensive knowledge of the relevant laws, we will craft a defence that will get you the best outcome possible. Remember the first rule of being charged with an offence: call a lawyer. Make that lawyer Zamani Law. Contact us today for a free consultation.