Understanding Dangerous Driving: Legal Implications And Defence Strategies

October 3, 2023

Dangerous Driving is not just another driving offence, like speeding or careless driving. Unlike such Highway Traffic Act charges, a Dangerous Driving Charge is an allegation of criminal wrongdoing. A conviction can attract severe consequences, including a criminal record, lengthy prohibitions on your ability to drive, and, depending on the facts of your case, the potential for a jail sentence.

However, an allegation that you drove poorly, even if an accident was involved, does not necessarily make your driving dangerous as defined by the Criminal Code of Canada. To amount to dangerous driving, the prosecutor must prove certain elements of the offence beyond a reasonable doubt before a conviction can be entered.

This is where the legal expertise of an experienced criminal defence lawyer becomes paramount. A lawyer will not only refute the prosecution’s arguments but also guide you through the intricate legal process.

In this blog, we will break down the law surrounding dangerous driving, review the available defences, and identify steps that can be taken to mitigate the impact of such a charge.

What Is Dangerous Driving?

Under section 320.13 of the Criminal Code of Canada, everyone commits the offence of Dangerous Driving who operates a “conveyance” (that means any motorized vehicle) in a manner that, “having regard to all the circumstances”, is dangerous to the public peace.

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.

When Is Driving Considered Dangerous To The Public Peace?

There is a significant distinction between mere bad driving (which would justify civil liability) and driving that is a marked departure (which justifies criminal punishment). In other words, for an accused driver to be convicted of Dangerous Driving, the lack of care must be serious enough to merit criminal punishment.

To prove a charge of Dangerous Driving, the Crown must establish that the driver in question was dangerous to the public, having regard to all the circumstances, including the nature, condition and use of the place at which the motor vehicle was being operated and the amount of traffic that at the time was or might reasonably have been expected to be at that place (the “actus reus” of the offence).

In addition, the court must be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that this objectively dangerous conduct was accompanied by the required guilty mind (the “mens rea” of the offence). The Crown must establish that the degree of care exercised by the accused was a marked departure from the standard of care that a reasonable person would have observed in the accused’s circumstances.

The care exhibited by the accused is assessed against the standard of care expected of a reasonably prudent driver in the circumstances. Accordingly, if an explanation is offered by the accused, the court must be satisfied that a reasonable person in similar circumstances ought to have been aware of the risk and of the danger involved in the conduct of the driver.

What Are The Penalties For Dangerous Driving?

The penalties for dangerous driving can be severe, including fines, driving prohibitions, mandatory license suspensions by the Ministry of Transportation, and even imprisonment, particularly where someone was injured.

Dangerous Driving As An Offence

Dangerous driving is a hybrid offence. This means that the available maximum sentence depends on whether the Crown proceeds by indictment or summarily. If the Crown proceeds by indictment, the maximum sentence is ten years; and two years less a day if the proceeding is summarily.

Dangerous Driving Causing Bodily Harm

Where dangerous driving results in bodily harm, the maximum sentence is 14 years (if by indictment) or two years less a day (if by summary conviction). In addition, s. 320.2 of the Criminal Code imposes the following minimum penalties:

(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;

Dangerous Driving Causing Death

Dangerous driving causing death is a straight indictable offence. While the same minimum sentences apply to dangerous driving causing bodily harm, the maximum term of imprisonment is life.

Court Imposed Driving Prohibition

Pursuant s. 320.24, the court may impose an order prohibiting a driver from operating a motor vehicle. In sentencing someone found guilty of dangerous driving, the order may be up to three (3) years and longer where bodily harm or death results.

License Suspensions Under The Highway Traffic Act

If you are found guilty of dangerous driving, the Highway Traffic Act will impose a mandatory suspension of your driver’s license. This means that even if the sentencing court does not prohibit you from operating a motor vehicle, your license will automatically be suspended by the Ministry of Transportation. Depending on the time that has passed between convictions, the length of the suspension can be severe:

  • One-year license suspension for a first offence;
  • Three-year license suspension for a second offence; and,
  • a potential lifetime suspension for a third.

What Evidence Will Be Considered By The Court?

Whether driving in a particular case crossed the line from merely being poor to criminally dangerous is fact-specific. This means the judge will examine the evidence in your case and consider all the circumstances to determine whether the Crown has established beyond a reasonable doubt that the driving was dangerous, including:

  • the speed travelled
  • the nature of the driving (Swerving in and out of traffic)
  • failure to obey road signs (Stop signs and traffic lights),
  • the weather and road conditions (Were the roads wet or dry?)
  • the time and place of driving (Was it early morning, with little or no traffic, or, “rush hour”, with dense vehicle and pedestrian traffic?)

What Are The Potential Defences To A Charge Of Dangerous Driving?

Each allegation of dangerous driving is unique. Your dangerous driving lawyer should, therefore, meticulously analyze the evidence to determine which defence(s) are best suited to fight the charges in your case.
Generally, defences to an allegation of dangerous driving will fall into three categories:

  1. Driving Was Not Objectively Dangerous: The focus is on the nature of the driving. Involved is a careful examination of the evidence, pointing to gaps in the prosecution’s case and ultimately arguing that the Crown failed to meet the high standard of establishing that the driving in question was dangerous to the public.
  2. Lack Of Intent: Argue that you did not intend to drive dangerously, in other words, your conduct was not a marked departure from the conduct of other reasonable, prudent drivers. Of significance is that you are expected to be a reasonably prudent driver, not a perfect driver.
    Were it otherwise, everyone who was involved in a traffic accident would be facing a charge of dangerous driving. While all circumstances will be considered by the judge, evidence that you were not aware of the risks that were present at the time (for example, that there was a mechanical defect with your vehicle) can be particularly relevant to this argument.
  3. Identify: When the alleged dangerous driver is stopped by the police, identifying will not be a viable defence. However, where the observations are based on civilian witness accounts, where issues with their reliability and credibility are present, and the arrest was made hours or even days later, the identity of the driver may be at issue.
    Importantly, it is not sufficient to establish that you were probably the driver, rather, the Crown must establish, and the judge can only convict if the identity of the driver is established to the criminal standard of beyond a reasonable doubt.

Strategies To Defend A Charge Of Dangerous Driving

Work with your dangerous driving lawyer to identify and secure evidence to support your defence. Witness memories fade, and electronic data (such as security video) can be lost or overwritten.

Accordingly, as is the case in defending any criminal allegation, securing evidence at the earliest opportunity is essential to the successful defence of a charge of dangerous driving.

  1. Gather Witness Statements: If witnesses were present, collect their contact information and statements to support your description of the events.
  2. Video And Photos: As we all know, security cameras are everywhere, from traditional CCTV to doorbell cameras. Securing such material is crucial because it provides objective evidence of the circumstances of the alleged dangerous driving. Your Dangerous Driving lawyer could obtain this material by agreement or, if necessary, obtain a court order for their production to assist you in your defence.
  3. Expert Opinions: Consider consulting with experts in accident reconstruction to provide professional opinions on the incident. In one case, the expert my office retained was instrumental in undermining the reliability of the evidence of the Crown’s professional police witness.

What Will Be The Sentence In My Case If Convicted?

The range of possible sentences for dangerous driving is broad, from fines to jail time. This is because while a court may be convinced the driving in question was dangerous, the acts giving rise to such a marked departure from the norm can encompass a wide continuum of conduct, from a short period of inattention (perhaps a violation of a traffic control signal), through to conduct that involves significantly dangerous driving for a prolonged period of time.

What the ultimate sentence will be in any case will depend on the facts the judge has in front of him or her, including whether there was a previous criminal record, the driving history, and especially the extent and nature of the driving.

Is It Possible To Resolve The Matter To A Lesser Charge, Such As Careless Driving?

Yes. During negotiations with the Crown Attorney, your lawyer will be able to determine whether a plea to a lesser charge, such as careless driving, is possible.

Raising this issue with your lawyer is important. There is a significant difference between being found guilty of careless driving as opposed to dangerous driving. The former is a ticket under the Highway Traffic Act (s.130), while dangerous driving is a criminal offence.

Moreover, while a jail sentence is possible, being found guilty of careless driving will result in a fine and/or probation (and, of course, lost demerit points) in the vast majority of cases.

Accordingly, in most cases, a resolution to careless driving is an attractive alternative. I have successfully negotiated such a resolution on behalf of my clients in the past. Whether this resolution is right for you will depend on your circumstances. You should speak to your dangerous driving lawyer whether this solution is available in your case.

Successfully Defending A Charge Of Dangerous Driving

  1. Consult An Experienced Lawyer: Seek legal representation from a skilled lawyer who has experience working such cases. They can guide you through the legal process, assist you in making decisions that are best for you and your family, and present a strong defence to the charge if the case goes to trial.
  2. Work With Your Lawyer: Make sure you work closely with the lawyer you choose to present an organized, well-structured and persuasive defence to the charges. If you have questions, ask them; if you have concerns, raise them. Your lawyer should make the time and have a level of expertise to provide answers to your satisfaction.

Richard Fedorowicz

Richard Fedorowicz is a highly skilled criminal defence lawyer known for his unwavering commitment to justice. With over two decades of legal expertise, Richard has passionately defended individuals facing criminal charges, leveraging his knowledge to navigate the complexities of the legal system. Richard Fedorowicz provides professional and strategic defence with unwavering dedication, ensuring optimal client results.

Looking for an experienced dangerous driving lawyer? Contact us for a free consultation.