What Is Considered as Careless Driving in Ontario?

Careless Driving Charges Are Allegations Involving the Failure to Operate a Vehicle With Due Care and Attention, Among Other Things, As Legally Required. A Conviction Brings Harsh Fines Between $400 and $2,000 As Well As Possible License Suspension and Jail. For Careless Driving Causing Death or Injury the Punishments Are Even More Significant.

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Fighting a Careless Driving Charge Helps to Protect Your Driving Record, Demerit Points, Insurance Rates, and Driving Privileges!

Woman Driving Carelessly The traffic offence of careless driving is a very serious offence. The offence may be charged where a driver fails to operate a vehicle in a manner that a vehicle would be operated by an "ordinary prudent driver". A secondary careless driving charge, treated very harshly by the law, may arise when the operator of a vehicle fails to operate the vehicle to the standard expected of an "ordinary prudent driver" and the consequences involve death or injury.

The Law
What Legally Constitutes As Careless Driving?

The offence of careless driving is a relatively vague yet broadly applicable charge.  Specifically, the offence of careless driving as within the Highway Traffic Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8 states:

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.

Penalty

(2) On conviction under subsection (1), a person 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 driver’s licence or permit may be suspended for a period of not more than two years.

Careless Driving Causing Bodily Harm or Death

(3) 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 who thereby causes bodily harm or death to any person.

Penalty

(4) On conviction under subsection (3), a person is liable to a fine of not less than $2,000 and not more than $50,000 or to imprisonment for a term of not more than two years, or to both, and in addition his or her driver’s licence or permit may be suspended for a period of not more than five years.

Deemed Lack of Reasonable Consideration

(5) For the purposes of subsections (1) and (3), a person is deemed to drive without reasonable consideration for other persons using the highway if he or she drives in a manner that may limit his or her ability to prudently adjust to changing circumstances on the highway.

Sentencing — Aggravating Factor

(6) A court that imposes a sentence for an offence under subsection (3) shall consider as an aggravating factor evidence that bodily harm or death was caused to a person who, in the circumstances of the offence, was vulnerable to a lack of due care and attention or reasonable consideration by a driver, including by virtue of the fact that the person was a pedestrian or cyclist. 

Whereas the offence of careless driving is vaguely defined as conduct that is "without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration for other persons", the common law, per actual court cases, is required to provide the defining substance of what is meant by "without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration for other persons". Examples for review may include:

  • Whether changing a radio station is "without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration for other persons"?
  • Whether two-handed eating while steering with knees is "without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration for other persons"?
  • Whether glancing at a map while trying to navigate an unfamiliar city is "without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration for other persons"?
  • Whether reading a report in preparation of a morning meeting while commuting to work is "without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration for other persons"?

How Is the Meaning of Due Care and Attention Legally Defined?

To determine what actually is "without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration for other persons" requires something more than just assessing whether some form of driving imperfection occurred. Instead, the assessment requires a hypothetical review of the conduct an "ordinary prudent driver" faced with similar circumstances. This basis for determining what actually is "without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration for other persons" was stated by the Court of Appeal within the precedent setting case of R. v. Beauchamp, 1952 CanLII 60 which is frequently cited and relied upon within more recent cases such as occurred within the case of York (Regional Municipality) v. Lam, 2017 ONCJ 290 wherein it is said:

[28]  In determining the requisite standard of care and skill required of a motorist facing a charge of careless driving, I look to the often cited Ontario Court of Appeal judgment, R. v. Beauchamp, 1952 CanLII 60 (ON CA), [1953] O.R. 422, in which the standard is not one of perfection.  Instead, Justice MacKay, writing for the Court, sets out the appropriate legal test as follows:

… It is whether it is proved beyond a reasonable doubt that this accused, in the light of existing circumstances of which he was aware or of which a driver exercising ordinary care should have been aware, failed to use the care and attention or to give to other persons using the highway the consideration that a driver of ordinary care would have used or given in the circumstances?   The use of the term “due care”, which means care owing in the circumstances, makes it quite clear that, while the legal standard of care remains the same in the sense that it is what the average careful man would have done in like circumstances, the factual standard is a constantly shifting one, depending on road, visibility, weather conditions, traffic conditions that exist or may reasonably be expected, and any other conditions that ordinary prudent drivers would take into consideration.  It is a question of fact, depending on the circumstances in each case.  [Emphasis added.]

Vehicle Defined Broadly
Can a Bicyclist Be Charged With Careless Driving?

Careless driving as per section 130 of the Highway Traffic Act, as is provided above, may be charged upon the operator of a "vehicle"rather than only upon those who operate a "motor vehicle".  As section 1 of the Highway Traffic Act includes bicycle, among other things, within the definition of "vehicle", there is the possibility that a person riding a bicycle, among other things, could be charged with careless driving.  Specifically, "bicycle" and "vehicle", per the Highway Traffic Act, are defined as:

bicycle” includes a tricycle, a unicycle and a power-assisted bicycle but does not include a motor assisted bicycle;

vehicle” includes a motor vehicle, trailer, traction engine, farm tractor, road-building machine, bicycle and any vehicle drawn, propelled or driven by any kind of power, including muscular power, but does not include a motorized snow vehicle or a street car;

Penalties
What Are the Consequences Upon Conviction of Careless Driving?

A careless driving conviction, being the generalized careless driving offence as provided by section 130(1) of the Highway Traffic Act as opposed to the careless driving causing death or injury charge as provided by section 130(3) of the Highway Traffic Act, involves potentially very serious penalties.  Upon conviction, the driver is subjected to a fine ranging between $400 and $2,000 plus a victim surcharge and six (6) demerit points.  There is also the possibility of a license suspension for a maximum period of two (2) years as well as jail for a maximum of six (6) months.  Additionally, a convicted driver will likely face very significant insurance rate increases.


Page 2 - Careless Driving, Causing Death or Injury Page 3 - Careless Driving, Defence Strategy
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Further Reading
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The topic of careless driving is a very deep legal subject with many subtopics that can only be lightly touched upon within a webpage article.  Legal practitioners and scholars could spend hours discussing the various twists and turns that apply to the principles and concepts mentioned here.


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