In Ontario, police officers often charge drivers with Careless Driving when the officer believes the driver was engaged in an unsafe driving action or failed to use proper care which resulted in an accident, particularly when the accident results in injury or death. Following too closely, excessive speed, distracted driving (such as texting while driving), unsafe passing, failing to stop at a red light or stop sign, and not taking proper care around cyclists and pedestrians, are among the most common actions that may lead to a careless driving charge. Although less common, a driver may also be charged with careless driving even when no accident occurred, such as when the driver was street racing or committing another unsafe driving action.
Under the Highway Traffic Act s. 130, careless driving is defined as follows.
“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…”
Careless driving is a traffic violation and is assessed at the discretion of a particular police officer. However, when determining the expected skill level and standard of care that’s required of a driver who faces a charge of careless driving, the Courts generally rely on a judgement reached by the Ontario Court of Appeal in R. v. Beauchamp. In Beauchamp, the Court stated that a driver should not be held to a standard of perfection, but their driving must meet the standard of care that an average careful person would have done under the same circumstances. Specifically, the legal test for careless driving is whether it is proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the driver “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”. This definition includes consideration of circumstances of which a sensible driver should have been aware, such as weather or traffic conditions.
Unlike dangerous driving, careless driving is not a criminal offence. Nevertheless, a careless driving conviction can have serious consequences, such as driver’s licence suspension, doubling (or more) of car insurance rates, a substantial fine, and in serious cases, jail time up to a period of 6 months. A novice driver will receive a 30-day driving suspension when charged with careless driving. And, depending on the alleged severity of the action, a driver convicted of careless driving may be fined $490 to $2000 and their licence may be suspended for as long as 2 years.
For professional drivers, such as truck drivers, or people who need to drive as part of their job, a careless driving conviction can have devastating consequences. It could result in suspension of their employment or even the loss of their job.
If convicted of careless driving, a driver will automatically receive 6 demerit points which remain on their driving record for two years after the date the offence was committed. A driver who already has 9 or more demerit points on their licence is generally required to attend an interview with the Ministry of Transportation to explain why they should be allowed to keep their driver’s licence. Careless driving remains on a person’s driving record for 3 years.
The penalties for careless driving may soon become much more severe in Ontario. In response to an increase in pedestrian and cyclist fatalities, in September 2017, the Ontario government announced plans to legislate stricter penalties for drivers who injure or kill someone while in the act of careless driving. In such cases, a driver may be fined up to $50,000 and may face up to 2 years in prison, which is the highest prison term set out under the Highway Traffic Act.
If you were charged with careless driving, dangerous driving or another driving-related offence, call an experienced lawyer at Yoannou Criminal Law to ensure the optimal outcome in your case.