There are situations where exact wording matters, and being charged with dangerous driving or careless driving is such a situation. In the legal world, words and phrases are often given specific definitions. Dangerous driving sounds very  similar to careless driving, and sometimes people confuse the two, but there is a difference. If you are charged with either, understanding that difference becomes more important.

Both dangerous driving and careless driving are serious charges with potential long-term consequences. The major difference between them is that dangerous driving, also known as dangerous operation, is a criminal charge under the Criminal Code of Canada, while careless driving is a non-criminal charge that falls under Ontario provincial legislation, the Highway Traffic Act. This means that if you are convicted of dangerous driving, you will have a criminal record, whereas if you are convicted of careless driving, you will have a driving record. Both convictions will raise your insurance costs and carry with them other penalties.

If you’ve received a ticket, or “notice of offence”, or you receive paperwork detailing the criminal charge and a next court date, it should describe which legislation the ticket has been issued under. You may be wondering what the legal charge means. Below, we will go into more detail, so you can get clarity and consider your options. Regardless of the charge, you should ensure that you attend the court date listed on your documents, or retain a lawyer to do so on your behalf.

What is Dangerous Driving

In 2018, previous legislation covering dangerous driving was replaced by new legislation under Criminal Code section 320.13. If you have been reading various articles and are not sure why they seem to give different advice, it could be that those articles were written before 2018. The dangerous operation of a motor vehicle now falls under the legislation that covers “dangerous operation”, which not only applies to motor vehicles but other “conveyances” such as vessels, aircraft, and trains.

Some examples of dangerous driving include:

  • driving over road lines or curbs
  • failure to obey road signs
  • tailgating
  • collisions
  • swerving

The examples given are not all-inclusive. Put in a simple way, any kind of irresponsible driving can be considered “dangerous”. In all cases, it must be proven that the driver knew, or ought to have known, that the way that they were driving was dangerous. The purpose of this legislation is to criminalize driving behaviors that cause an increased risk of danger to the public, whether they result in an accident or not.

What is the Charge for Dangerous Driving

The basic charges for dangerous driving or dangerous operation of a motor vehicle can be found under Criminal Code, section 320.13(1). The exact wording of this section in the Criminal Code is:

Dangerous operation

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.

There are also related charges that carry more serious penalties. If you have been charged with an offence under Criminal Code section 320.13(2), or 320.13(3), this means that there has been bodily harm or death involved in the incident, and more harsh penalties may apply.

What is the Penalty for Dangerous Driving

Keep in mind as you read these penalties, that the maximum consequences are listed here. There is a wide range of decisions a court might make, and specific circumstances can make the penalty either lighter or harsher.

If convicted of dangerous driving under Criminal Code section 320.13 the penalties can include:

  • A criminal record;
  • A possible jail sentence. This ranges depending on the severity of the incident.
    • in the case of dangerous operation — a term up to 10 years
    • in the case of dangerous operation causing bodily harm — a term up to a maximum of 14 years; and
    • in the case of dangerous operation causing death — a term up to a maximum of life
  • A possible fine of no less than $1,000.00
  • Possible suspension of your license (differs depending on the severity of the offence).

When considering the sentence, the court will consider if there have been “aggravating circumstances”. In addition, previous driving record, the age of the driver, road conditions, and the extent of any injuries may be considered.

How to Fight a Dangerous Driving Charge

There are factors that can reduce a sentence or convince a court that a lesser non-criminal charge of careless driving should apply. Discussing your case with a legal professional can help, not only to fight the charge but to understand your options and the possible outcomes.

What is Careless Driving

Careless driving is an offence that is legislated under the Highway Traffic Act, R.S.O. 1990, c.H.8 of Ontario. It is a non-criminal charge which means that if charged, there are possibly serious consequences, but a criminal record is not one of them.

Many of the reasons you can be charged with careless driving overlap with those for dangerous driving. These reasons include things such as speeding, texting while driving, accidents, running red lights, etc. Basically, any unsafe or irresponsible driving behaviour can be considered careless driving.

What is the charge for Careless Driving

The charge for careless driving is Highway Traffic Act section 130(1) which reads:

Careless driving

130(1) 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. 2017, c. 26, Sched. 4, s. 17.

As with dangerous driving, there is a more serious careless driving charge that applies to incidents where there is harm or death to another person. The penalties associated with careless driving can also differ depending on the situation.

What is the Penalty for Careless Driving

The fines and penalties for basic careless driving in Ontario can include:

  • A fine between $400 — $2000
  • Or a prison term of up to 6 months
  • Both a fine and prison term
  • Possible driver’s licence suspension for a period of up to 2 years
  • 6 demerit points added to your driving record;
  • Higher insurance rates

If someone has been injured or died as a result of someone else’s careless driving, the possible penalties if convicted can be stricter:

  • a fine between $2,000 and $50,000
  • imprisonment for a term of not more than two years
  • both a fine and a prison term
  • driver’s licence or permit may be suspended for a period of up to five years
  • 6 demerit points added to your driving record
  • Higher insurance rates

How to Fight a Careless Driving Charge

Not all tickets are created equal. Careless driving is on the more serious side of available offences under the Provincial Offences Act, and carries with it more serious penalties than a speeding or parking ticket. If you are guilty and have received a fine you can afford, you may be okay with just paying the ticket and putting it behind you. Keep in mind that you will still receive demerits and there will be consequences for your insurance.

However, you do have options. If you feel you have been treated unfairly, or have received a more serious dangerous driving or careless driving ticket that will result in a court hearing, you may benefit from legal advice. You may also benefit from legal advice to explain how to plead guilty and ask for a lowered sentence or fine.

If you live in Kingston or the surrounding area, have recently received a ticket or notice of offence, and have questions about what action to take, call RBHF Professional Corporation at 613-546-2147 or contact us to speak with an expert driving defence lawyer in your area.