What Is Considered as Careless Driving in Ontario?

Careless Driving Is Defined Within the Highway Traffic Act As Driving a Vehicle Without Due Care and Attention or Reasonable Consideration For Other Persons Using the Highway. Highway Is Defined Broadly and Includes What Most People Define As Roads. Fines Range From $400 to $2,000 and Insurance Affects Are Likely Significant.

Understanding How Fighting a Careless Driving Charge Helps Protect Your Driving Privileges, Insurance Rates, and More

Woman Driving Carelessly The law treats the driving offence of careless driving very seriously. Generally, the offence is charged when the operator of a vehicle, typically, among other possibilities, the driver of a motor vehicle, fails to operate the vehicle to the standard expected of 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
How Is Careless Driving Legally Defined?

Legally, a careless driving charge is a vaguely defined and thus flexible and therefore applicable to a myriad of circumstances.  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".  As examples:

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

What Is the Legal Meaning of Due Care and Attention?

It is said that "without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration for other persons" requires more than imperfect driving and instead requires driving conduct that is something than the driving conduct of a hypothetical "ordinary prudent driver". This basis for analyzing what constitutes as careless driving was established by the Court of Appeal within R. v. Beauchamp, 1952 CanLII 60 as the precedent setting case that is now relied upon within recent cases such as occurred in York (Regional Municipality) v. Lam, 2017 ONCJ 290 which stated:

[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
What Types of Vehicles Are Included Within the Law of Careless Driving?

It is notable that the offence of careless driving as prescribed within section 130 of the Highway Traffic Act, per the above, may be charged upon the operator of a "vehicle" which is much broader than sections of the Highway Traffic Act that apply only to circumstances involving a "motor vehicle".  As section 1 of the Highway Traffic Act includes bicycle, among other things, within the definition of "vehicle", it is possible that a person riding a bicycle, among other things, can be charged with the offence of careless driving.  Specifically, the words "bicycle" and "vehicle" as within 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 Potential Punishments For Careless Driving?

A conviction on a careless driving charge, meaning the general careless driving charge per section 130(1) of the Highway Traffic Act rather than the careless driving causing death or injury charge per section 130(3) of the Highway Traffic Act, comes with hefty penalties.  The fine ranges between $400 and $2,000 plus victim surcharge and six (6) demerit points.  Additionally, a possibility exists for a license suspension of up to two (2) years and imprisonment for up to six (6) months.  Furthermore, very significant insurance rate increases are likely.


Page 2 - Careless Driving, Causing Death or Injury Page 3 - Careless Driving, Defence Strategy
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Further Reading
Encouraged

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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