Dangerous Driving

What is considered “dangerous” for the purpose of a dangerous driving offence?

It is an offence to operate a motor vehicle in a manner that is dangerous to the public. In determining whether the motor vehicle was being operated in a dangerous manner, the courts will consider all the circumstances, including the nature, condition, and use of the place in which the motor vehicle was being operated. The courts consider the manner in which the vehicle was being operated and not the consequences of the operation. Therefore, a person can still be guilty of dangerous driving even if no accident resulted from the person’s driving.

In order for a person to be found guilty of dangerous driving, the prosecutor must prove that the person’s operation was a “marked departure” from the standard of driving of a reasonable person. A slight lapse in attention to the road does not constitute dangerous driving.

Applicable Legislation – Criminal Code, s. 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.

What is the maximum penalty for a dangerous driving offence?

The maximum penalty for a dangerous driving offence depends on whether the prosecutor proceeds by way of indictment or by way of summary conviction. If the prosecutor chooses to proceed by indictment, the maximum penalty is five (5) years in jail. If the prosecutor chooses to proceed by summary conviction, the maximum penalty is six (6) months in jail and/or a $5,000 fine.

It is important to keep in mind that the maximum penalty will change if the dangerous driving results in bodily harm or the death of another person. If there has been resulting bodily harm, the maximum penalty is ten (10) years in jail. If there has been resulting death, the maximum penalty is fourteen (14) years in jail.

Applicable Legislation – Criminal Code, s. 249

(2) Everyone who commits an offence under subsection (1)

(a) is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years; or

(b) is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction

(3)  Every one who commits an offence under subsection (1) and thereby causes bodily harm to any other person is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years.

(4)  Every one who commits an offence under subsection (1) and thereby causes the death of any other person is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years.

Will I lose my driver’s licence if I am convicted of a dangerous driving offence?

Under Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act, a person who is convicted of dangerous driving will have their driver’s licence suspended. The length of time of the suspension will depend on the person’s previous convictions on similar charges (if any). For a first-time offender, his or her licence will be suspended for one (1) year. If the person is being convicted for the second time, the suspension will last three (3) years. If the person has been convicted two or more times prior to the current conviction, his or her licence will be suspended indefinitely.

Applicable Legislation – Highway Traffic Act, s. 41

(1) Subject to subsections 41.1(1), (2), and (3), the driver’s licence of a person who is convicted of an offence…

(b) under section 249, 249.1, 249.2, 249.3, 249.4, or 252 of the Criminal Code (Canada) committed while driving or having the care, charge or control of a motor vehicle or street car within the meaning of this Act or a motorized snow vehicle…is thereupon suspended,

(f)  upon the first conviction, for one year;

(g)  upon the first subsequent conviction, for three years; and

(h)  upon the second subsequent conviction or an additional subsequent conviction, indefinitely.

What defences are available for a dangerous driving charge?

A possible defence to a dangerous driving charge is the defence of necessity. A successful defence of necessity is composed of three elements. Firstly, the person must be in imminent danger. This means the danger must have been near and unavoidable. A danger that was merely likely or foreseeable is insufficient to ground a defence of necessity. Secondly, the person must have had no reasonable legal alternative to the course of action he or she undertook. What counts as a “reasonable legal alternative” will be determined on a case-by-case basis. Where the person can be said to have not had any real choice, his or her actions will not be considered morally voluntary. Thirdly, the harm inflicted by the person in committing the offence must be proportionate to the harm avoided. The harm avoided does not have to clearly outweigh the harm inflicted, but the two must have been comparable to each other. Courts have held in the past that a person who operates a motor vehicle in a dangerous manner so as to escape death will not be convicted of dangerous driving.

Involuntary intoxication may negate the fault element of a dangerous driving offence. For example, a person who becomes unknowingly drugged at a bar may be acquitted if he or she was unaware of the drug’s effect on his or her ability to drive. A person will not be able to claim his or her dangerous driving was unintentional because of voluntary consumption of alcohol or drugs.

Unexpected impairments from medical conditions, such as seizures and black-outs, may serve as a defence to a dangerous driving charge. If, however, the medical impairment came about because of the person’s voluntary decision not to take medication for a pre-existing medication he or she was aware of, the medical impairment will not serve as a successful defence.

A more favourable outcome for a person charged with dangerous driving would be to have the charge reduced to that of careless driving. Though careless driving is a serious offence under the Highway Traffic Act, it is not a criminal offence and a conviction will not result in a criminal record. A conviction for careless driving also may not result in a licence suspension.

Take the next step

If you have been charged with a dangerous driving offence, your best approach to the situation is to consult with effective legal counsel. Lakin Afolabi is a criminal defence lawyer in London, Ontario, who has successfully defended many individuals charged with dangerous driving. Contact him today for a consultation.

Contact Lakin Afolabi now for a consultation
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