Dangerous Driving vs. Careless Driving

Dangerous Driving vs. Careless Driving

Dangerous Driving

The Criminal Code offence of dangerous driving is made out where viewed objectively, your driving is dangerous to the public, having regard to all the circumstances, including the nature, condition and use of the place where the driving occurs and the amount of traffic there at the time or that might reasonably be expected.

A dangerous driving conviction results in a criminal record and (in Ontario) an automatic one-year licence suspension (for a first offence). Drivers with previous convictions for dangerous driving or impaired driving may face a longer licence suspension (for example, see Section 41 of the Ontario Highway Traffic Act).

It may be possible to have a Dangerous Driving charge reduced to a charge of Careless Driving. This is generally an excellent outcome as a conviction for dangerous driving is far worse than a conviction for careless driving. Although a conviction for careless driving will lead to higher motor vehicle insurance rates, it is not a criminal offence and therefore does not result in a criminal record. Nor does it lead to an automatic licence suspension.

For driving to be deemed dangerous it must depart markedly from the standard of care of a reasonable person. By contrast, careless driving is made out where your driving departs sufficiently from the standard of a prudent and reasonable driver to make the driving deserving of punishment.

A “few seconds” of negligent driving

In a 2008 case, the Supreme Court of Canada restored the acquittal of a B.C. driver whose pick-up truck, for no apparent reason, suddenly crossed the solid centre line into the path of an oncoming vehicle, killing all three occupants.

Witnesses testified the accused’s vehicle was being driven properly before the accident. An expert inspection concluded that the accused’s vehicle had not experienced mechanical failure. Intoxicants were ruled out.

The accused, Justin Beatty, stated that he was not sure how the collision occurred but that he must have lost consciousness or fallen asleep.

The Supreme Court agreed with the trial judge that a few seconds of negligent driving could not, without more, support a finding of a marked departure from the standard of care of a reasonably prudent driver. The B.C. Court of Appeal had earlier set aside the acquittal and ordered a new trial, finding that the accused’s conduct of crossing the centre line into the path of oncoming traffic could only be viewed as objectively dangerous and a marked departure.

Careless driving

Careless driving is one of the most serious charges under the Highway Traffic Act of Ontario.

The Highway Traffic Act of Ontario defines careless driving as driving on a highway without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the highway.

Driving on a “highway”

The Highway Traffic Act of Ontario defines “highway” as follows:

“highway” includes a common and public highway, street, avenue, parkway, driveway, square, place, bridge, viaduct or trestle, any part of which is intended for or used by the general public for the passage of vehicles and includes the area between the lateral property lines thereof; (“voie publique”)

Thus, for example, it appears that one cannot be found guilty of careless driving if the driving occurs on a sidewalk, in a shopping mall parking lot, or on a private roadway or driveway.

Breach of duty to the public

To qualify as careless, the Ontario Court of Appeal held in a 1953 case, the driving must be considered a breach of duty to the public and deserving of punishment.

“This principle may be somewhat difficult to apply,” the court said, “but I think it might be illustrated by the common example of a motorist attempting to park at the curb in a space between two other parked vehicles. Frequently one or other of the parked vehicles is bumped in the process. Damage seldom arises, because cars are equipped with bumpers, but if damage were caused it might well give rise to a civil action for damages, but it could hardly be said to be such a lack of care or attention as would be considered to be deserving of punishment as a crime or quasi-crime.”

“[T]he test, where an accident has occurred, is not whether, if the accused had used greater care or skill, the accident would not have happened. It is whether it is proved beyond reasonable doubt that the 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.”

More than a momentary lapse

Several principles have emerged over the years from court rulings (e.g., R. v. Beauchamp) on careless driving:

  • The standard against which the defendant’s driving must be measured is not one of perfection. The driving of the defendant must be measured against a reasonable standard or skill, what an ordinary person would do.
  • A momentary lapse or a simple error in judgment is insufficient to justify a conviction for careless driving.
  • Where an accident has occurred, the fact that serious injury or death has resulted is not, except in unusual cases, relevant to an assessment of whether there has been a departure from the standard of care which would justify a finding of careless driving.
  • Mere inadvertent negligence will not necessarily support a conviction for careless driving. More than a bare act of negligence must be proven.


A conviction for careless driving is punishable by a minimum fine of $400. The maximum fine is $2,000. If you’re convicted, the court also can suspend your licence for up to two years and even put you in jail for up to six months. Under a Provincial Offences Act regulation a victim fine surcharge of is added to the fine (starting at $85 if the fine is $400 and 25 per cent of any fine over $1,000).

Demerit Points

A conviction carries six demerit points. Demerit points stay on your record with the Ministry of Transportation for two years from the offence date. A fully licensed driver with between 9 and 14 demerits points may be required to attend an interview with a ministry official to provide information or other evidence to show why his or her driver’s licence should not be suspended.

The Ministry may, after giving notice, suspend your driver’s licence if you fail to attend the required interview; do not comply with the Ministry’s requirements as a result of the interview; or do not show at the interview why your licence should not be suspended.

If you accumulate 15 demerit points, the Ministry will suspend your licence. You will not get it back until 30 days from the date you surrender it or two years from the date of the suspension, whichever comes first. After further demerit-point suspensions you may not get your licence back until six months elapse from the date you surrender it or two years from the date of the suspension, whichever occurs first.

For more information, see the demerit point regulations.

Insurance risk points

A conviction for careless driving also has serious consequences for your motor vehicle insurance.

Insurance companies rank driving offences as minor, major or serious and assign insurance risk points to each category. Serious convictions are the worst and carry four risk points. If the driver has been licensed for less than four years, the insurance risk points attaching to a conviction are doubled.

Risk points are to be distinguished from demerit points. Demerit points are imposed by the Ministry of Transportation for conviction of offences under the Highway Traffic Act.

A conviction for careless driving is treated as a “serious” conviction for insurance purposes.

The following Criminal Code offences are also considered “serious” and entail four insurance risk points:

  • Drive Over 80 mgs
  • Over 80/Care or Control
  • Impaired Driving
  • Impaired/Care or Control
  • Dangerous Driving
  • Fail or Refuse to Provide Breath Sample

Highway Traffic Act offences:

  • Drive While Under Suspension
  • Class G1/G2/M1/M2 drive with alcohol in blood

(A G1 or G2 licence holder is a “novice” driver.)

Non-renewal of your insurance

Most insurance companies will not renew your insurance or accept you as an insured if you accumulate four insurance risk points. You will have no choice but to buy insurance through a company specializing in high-risk drivers such as Facility Association. Such companies charge higher premiums.

A serious conviction will result in a surcharge. Facility Association, will impose a surcharge of 100 per cent, doubling your base premiums. Other insurance companies impose similar surcharges. Surcharges will apply to your insurance for three years.

Minor convictions carry one insurance risk point. Major convictions result in two points. An at-fault collision carries two points.

Examples of minor convictions:

  • Seatbelt – any offence
  • Unsafe move
  • Traffic signs – disobeying any legal sign except parking signs
  • Speeding – any type, except when listed as major or serious
  • Failing to yield

Examples of major convictions:

  • Speeding 50 km/h over the speed limit
  • Failing to report an accident
  • Driving without insurance (contrary to the Compulsory Automobile Insurance Act)
  • Class G1 accompanying driver has excess blood alcohol
  • Class G1 accompanying driver fails or refuses to provide a breath sample
  • Class G1 drive on prohibited highway
  • Class G1/M1 drive at unlawful hour
  • Class G1 driver unaccompanied by a qualified driver

(A “qualified driver” is someone who has attained an Ontario Class G licence and has four years of driving experience.)

Insurance companies have access to your driving record for the past three years (and the past six years for claims).