While careless driving and dangerous driving can both lead to traffic accidents, injuries and death, many people in Ontario are confused about how these driving offences are categorized under the law. This confusion is further heightened by the criminal negligence offence category, which can be applied to drivers after an accident.
The most important thing to know is that dangerous driving and criminal negligence charges are—similar to DUIs—criminal offences, which can subject you to severe penalties and a criminal record. Careless driving, on the other hand, is not. Let's take a closer look at these three motor vehicle offence categories to better understand how they are addressed by police and the courts.
Careless Driving is Not a Criminal Offence
Unlike dangerous driving and criminal negligence-related driving offences, careless driving is a not a criminal offence and not a provision in Canada's Criminal Code. Careless driving charges are laid out under Section 130 (1-6) of Ontario's Highway Traffic Act. To secure a conviction for careless driving, prosecutors need only prove that the driver was being careless, inconsiderate to others on the road, or made an error in judgement while driving.
Penalties for careless driving range from fines of between $400 to $2,000 and/or up to six months imprisonment, as well as a driver's license suspension of up to two years and six demerit points on the license. Penalties for careless driving causing bodily harm or death range from fines of between $2,000 and $50,000 and/or up to two years imprisonment, as well as a driver's license suspension for up to five years and six license demerit points.
Dangerous Driving is a Much More Severe Offence
Dangerous driving is defined under Section 320.13 of the Criminal Code, as anyone "who operates a conveyance in a manner that, having regard to all of the circumstances, is dangerous to the public." Unlike careless driving, prosecutors have to prove that a driver intended to drive dangerously in order to secure a conviction. Along with intent, prosecutors need to prove that the driving was "dangerous" and represented a threat to the public.
As a criminal offence, a conviction for dangerous driving comes with significant penalties and a criminal record. If charged as an indictable offence, the maximum penalty is 10 years imprisonment, while a summary offence conviction carries a maximum sentence of two years imprisonment. Other than a one-year mandatory driver's license suspension, there are no mandatory minimum penalties, but judges can impose fines, probation, and other terms as they see fit. Dangerous driving causing bodily harm carries a mandatory minimum fine of $1,000 when charged as an indictable offence. The maximum penalty is 14 years imprisonment, and repeat offenders face mandatory jail time of at least 30 days for a second-time offence and 120 days for a third and subsequent offence. The mandatory minimum penalties also apply when it is prosecuted as a summary conviction offence, though the maximum penalties are a $5,000 fine and/or two years imprisonment.
Dangerous driving causing death is only prosecuted as an indictable offence and carries the same minimum penalties as dangerous driving causing bodily harm, but the maximum penalties are life imprisonment.
Criminal Negligence Also Carries Significant Penalties
The police and/or Crown may lay criminal negligence causing death or bodily harm charges rather than dangerous driving charges when a traffic accident causes death or injury. Section 219 (1) of the Criminal Code describes criminal negligence as anyone "who in doing anything, or in omitting to do anything that it is his duty (under the law) to do, shows wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of other persons."
If the criminal negligence causes death, it is solely an indictable offence, which comes with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. In cases causing bodily harm, the charges can be brought as an indictable offence, which carries a 10-year maximum imprisonment sentence, or as a summary conviction offence, which carries a maximum two years imprisonment. Provisions in Ontario's Highway Act also mandate license suspensions of between one-year for a first-time offence, and up to a lifetime suspension for subsequent convictions.
Charges of criminal negligence causing death or bodily harm while operating a motor vehicle seem to be quite similar to dangerous driving charges. However, Ontario courts have established precedents to help distinguish the two and that make clear that criminal negligence is the greater offence. In R. v. L.(J.),  O.J. No. 131 (Ont. C.A.), the Court of Appeal for Ontario established that dangerous driving is based on there being a "marked departure" from what would be construed as reasonable driving conduct. Criminal negligence, noted the court, should be based on a "marked and substantial departure" as characterized by a wanton or reckless disregard for the life or safety of other people.
Experienced Criminal Defence Lawyers Can Help
If you are facing dangerous driving or criminal negligence charges, you should always seek out the legal expertise of experienced criminal defence trial lawyers. With the risk of a criminal record and sever penalties, you cannot afford to defend yourself or assume that as a first-time offence the court will go easy on you if you plead guilty. A skilled criminal defence trial lawyer will carefully analyze the Crown's evidence to assess the extent at which it supports the charges. Based on this assessment, your lawyer can strategize an applicable defence designed to achieve the most favorable outcome possible. Even if the Crown's evidence seems overwhelming in its support of the charges, your lawyer may be able to negotiate a reduction of charges or otherwise mitigate potential penalties.
Consult with TorontoDUI for Your Criminal Driving Defence
With more than 15 years of successfully defending Greater Toronto Area defendants from all types of DUI-related charges, the criminal trial DUI lawyers at TorontoDUI have proven highly effective at securing the most favorable outcomes for their clients. If you or someone you know has been charged with a DUI or other criminal driving offences, such as dangerous driving, contact the highly skilled lawyers at TorontoDUI for a free consultation.