How Serious Is a Dangerous Driving Charge?

A Dangerous Driving Charge, More Accurately a Dangerous Operation Charge, Is a Serious Criminal Concern With Potential Penalty of Life Imprisonment.

Understanding Dangerous Operation of a ConveyancePer Section 320.13 (formerly section 249) of the Criminal Code

The charge that is commonly known and referred to as dangerous driving is actually a misnomer.  Technically, in law, the charge is dangerous operation of a conveyance which may involve a motor vehicle, a watercraft of many types, an aircraft, or railway equipment.  Additionally, the charge has three variations depending on whether the conduct caused danger, caused injury, or caused death.

The Law

In 2018, the Criminal Code, R.S.C. 1985, c. C-46 was significantly revised.  The former dangerous driving charge, which was previously found at section 249 of the Criminal Code was repealed and the new charge of dangerous operation of a conveyance was added, and reworded from the former charge.  The new charge is found at section 320.13 of the Criminal Code.  Specifically, the new charge states:

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.

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.

As shown, section 320.13(1) addresses dangerous operation that poses danger to the public while section 320.13(2) addresses dangerous operation that caused injury and section 320.13(3) addresses dangerous operation that caused death.  For each level of seriousness, albeit each level is highly serious, the degree of potential penalties and punishments increases.

Possible Penalties

As above, the possible penalties, as potential punishments, upon conviction for the dangerous operation offences vary depending on the circumstance and the specific charge.  For dangerous operation causing risk of danger, the possible penalties are found at section 320.19(5).  For dangerous operation causing injury, the possible penalties are found at section 320.2.  For dangerous operation causing death, the possible penalties are found at section 320.21.  Specifically, the penalty sections state:

Punishment — dangerous operation and other offences

320.19(5) Every person who commits an offence under subsection 320.13(1) or 320.16(1), section 320.17 or subsection 320.18(1) is guilty of

(a) an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than 10 years; or

(b) an offence punishable on summary conviction.

Punishment in case of bodily harm

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,

(i) for a first offence, a fine of $1,000,

(ii) for a second offence, imprisonment for a term of 30 days, and

(iii) 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).

Punishment in case of death

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.

Vessel, broadly defined

Interestingly, per the case of R. v. Sillars, 2018 ONCJ 816, it was argued whether a canoe was defined as a vessel.  In the Sillars case, a canoe was operated near a waterfall where subsequently the canoe did go over the waterfall and eight (8) year-old boy was drowned.  In reviewing the argument as to whether an unmotorized watercraft, such as a canoe, constituted as a vessel per the Criminal Code, the court said, among other things:

[55]  Considering the totality of the materials before me and considering that the words of an Act are to be read in their entire context and in their grammatical and ordinary sense harmoniously with the scheme of the Act, the object of the Act and the intention of Parliament, it is my finding that the term “vessel” contained in s. 253(1)(a), s. 253(1)(b) and s. 249(1)(b) includes a canoe. ...

While dangerous operation is most commonly thought of in the context of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle, and is commonly referred to as dangerous driving, as shown per the Sillars case, the dangerous operation law can be applied to a unmotorized watercraft such as a canoe.

Summary Comment

Dangerous driving, or more formally known in law as dangerous operation involves a range in severity of possible charges with each having a range in severity of potential penalties.


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