PUBLISHED ON June 12, 2023
Most Canadians drive safely and follow the rules of the road. Sometimes, however, mistakes are made, which sometimes results in criminal charges. Dangerous driving, driving in a manner that puts the public in danger, is one such charge. The following information is not legal advice; it is for informational purposes only. If you have been charged with dangerous driving, you should seek advice from an experienced criminal defence lawyer.
What is Dangerous Driving?
Under Canadian law, dangerous driving occurs any time a driver operates a car (or a boat, aircraft, or railway equipment) in a way that puts others in danger. The outcome of the act doesn’t determine the charges; in other words, whether or not the driver’s actions cause an accident or death has no bearing on the filing of charges – it is the driving itself. As seen below, however, specific sections of the Criminal Code apply when dangerous driving causes bodily harm or death. When laying the charge, the police consider whether the driver markedly departs from what a reasonable person would do in similar circumstances. For example, excessive speed isn’t necessarily enough to warrant a dangerous driving charge when it occurs on a highway. However, driving too fast in a residential neighbourhood during inclement weather or while people are present will generally be deemed dangerous because the driving puts the public at risk. Depending on the circumstances of the case, it is not uncommon for the prosecutor to drop the charge down to a careless driving charge under the Highway Traffic Act, either.
The Criminal Code defines the offence of dangerous driving in section 320.13:
- 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.
- Operation causing bodily harm
(2) Everyone commits an offence who operates a conveyance in a manner that, having regard to all of the circumstances, is dangerous to the public and, as a result, causes bodily harm to another person.
- Operation causing death
(3) Everyone commits an offence who operates a conveyance in a manner that, having regard to all of the circumstances, is dangerous to the public and, as a result, causes the death of another person.
What Are the Penalties for Dangerous Driving?
The penalties for a conviction are severe and can be life-altering. They can include a criminal record, jail time, licence suspension, and driving prohibitions. As seen below, the Criminal Code creates different offences for dangerous driving that causes bodily harm and death, and the real difference shows in the sentencing provisions. Punishment for dangerous driving where no injuries are caused can include imprisonment for a term of not more than 10 years if the Crown proceeds by indictment. Where bodily harm is caused, the Criminal Code states:
320.2 Every person who commits an offence under subsection 320.13(2), 320.14(2), 320.15(2) or 320.16(2) is guilty of
(a) an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than 14 years and to a minimum punishment of,
- for a first offence, a fine of $1,000,
- for a second offence, imprisonment for a term of 30 days, and
- for each subsequent offence, imprisonment for a term of 120 days; or
(b) an offence punishable on summary conviction and liable to a fine of not more than $5,000 or to imprisonment for a term of not more than two years less a day, or to both, and to the minimum punishments set out in subparagraphs (a)(i) to (iii).
The punishment for dangerous driving that causes death is stated in s. 320.21 of the Criminal Code:
320.21 Everyone who commits an offence under subsection 320.13(3), 320.14(3), 320.15(3) or 320.16(3) is liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for life and to a minimum punishment of,
(a) for a first offence, a fine of $1,000;
(b) for a second offence, imprisonment for a term of 30 days; and
(c) for each subsequent offence, imprisonment for a term of 120 days.
In considering what the actual sentence should be, the sentencing judge will consider several factors, including (s. 320.22 of the Criminal Code):
- the commission of the offence resulted in bodily harm to, or the death of, more than one person;
- the offender was operating a motor vehicle in a race with at least one other motor vehicle or in a contest of speed, on a street, road or highway or in another public place;
- a person under the age of 16 years was a passenger in the conveyance operated by the offender;
- the offender was being remunerated for operating the conveyance;
- the offender’s blood alcohol concentration at the time of committing the offence was equal to or exceeded 120 mg of alcohol in 100 mL of blood;
- the offender was operating a large motor vehicle; and
- the offender was not permitted, under a federal or provincial Act, to operate the conveyance
Possible Defences of Dangerous Driving
A typical defence to a charge of dangerous driving is that there was a momentary loss of attention and/or the driving was not dangerous for the conditions – that a reasonable and prudent person would not have acted differently in the same situation. Again, you must speak to a criminal defence lawyer to receive advice for your case.
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