Dangerous Driving versus Careless Driving…. What’s the difference?

Of all the different driving offences that exist, “Dangerous Driving” under the Criminal Code of Canada and “Careless Driving” under the Highway Traffic Act (H.T.A), are two common charges we see as criminal lawyers. Many think that the two charges are similar, they are in fact, very different.

Definition of “Dangerous Driving”

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;

Definition of “Careless Driving

130.  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.  

Different Sources….

The first key distinction is the underlying source of each law. “Careless Driving” is found in the “Highway Traffic Act”. The H.T.A is a Provincial Statute that governs how vehicles may be used on Provincial roads. Each province and territory in Canada has their own “H.T.A”. It is important to note that a charge under the H.T.A is not a criminal charge, rather, it is a “Provincial Offence”. On the other hand, “Dangerous Driving” is found in the Criminal Code of Canada. The Criminal Code is a codification of the criminal offences and procedures in Canada. “Dangerous Driving” is a criminal charge.

Different Penalties….

The penalties for each of these charges are very different. Due to the fact that “Dangerous Driving” is a criminal charge, the penalties, if convicted, are much more severe than those for “Careless Driving”.

If one is convicted of “Dangerous Operation of a Motor Vehicle” simpliciter, one is liable to a maximum punishment of 6 months in jail if the matter proceeds by way of summary conviction, or a maximum of 5 years in jail if the matter proceeds by way of indictment. The penalty is increased to a maximum penalty of either 10 or 14 years depending on whether the person is found guilty of “Dangerous Driving Causing Bodily Harm” or “Dangerous Driving Causing Death”. A person found guilty of “Dangerous Driving” will receive a criminal conviction, and will also lose their driver’s license for a period of time, (e.g. a minimum of one year in Ontario).

On the other hand, if one is convicted of Careless Driving, they are liable to a fine of not less than $400 and not more than $1,000 or to imprisonment for a term of not more than six months, or to both, and in addition their licence may be suspended for a period of not more than two years.

Each Offence Requires Proof of Different Elements

Firstly, the Highway Traffic Act of Ontario defines "highway" in such a manner that one cannot be found guilty of careless driving if the driving occurs on a sidewalk, in a shopping mall parking lot, or on a private roadway or driveway.

Secondly, for “Careless Driving” to be proven, there are several elements that must be considered:

  • The driving must be considered a breach of the duty to the public and deserving of punishment
     
  • A momentary lapse or a simple error in judgment cannot justify a conviction for careless driving
     
  • The standard against which the defendant's driving must be measured against is a reasonable standard or skill, in essence, what an ordinary person would do.
     
  • Where an accident has occurred, the fact that serious injury or death has resulted is not sufficient on its own to prove “Careless Driving”.

The elements that must be proven in order to be convicted of “Dangerous Driving” are quite different. The Criminal Code offence of “Dangerous Driving” can only be proven where, viewed objectively, the driving is dangerous to the public, having regard to all the circumstances, including the nature, condition and use of the place where the driving occurs and the amount of traffic there at the time or that might reasonably be expected. As such, a multitude of factors are taken into consideration.

For driving to be considered dangerous, it must be a “marked departure” from the standard of care that is expected of a reasonable person. In R. v. Beatty, the Supreme Court of Canada restored the acquittal of a driver whose pick-up truck, suddenly crossed the solid centre line into the path of an oncoming vehicle, killing all three occupants. The Supreme Court agreed with the trial judge that a few seconds of negligent driving could not, without more, support a finding of a marked departure from the standard of care of a reasonably prudent driver.

Below are three articles which provide some interesting commentary about “Careless Driving” and “Dangerous Driving”.

The Toronto Star: Why is careless driving not a crime? - Should careless driving be considered criminally negligent?

Wheels.ca: When is a fatal crash just careless driving and when is it criminal? The Guelph Mercury: Careless driving charge could total your ability to drive

The following are two seminal cases about “Dangerous Driving”:

R. v. Beatty, [2008] 1 SCR 49, 2008 SCC 5 (CanLII)

R. v. Hundal, [1993] 1 SCR 867, 1993 CanLII 120 (SCC)

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