To be convicted of careless driving or dangerous driving, an accused person must be shown to have been driving in a manner that’s below what’s expected of a reasonable person. So, simply making a mistake during the course of normal driving should not automatically result in a careless driving or dangerous driving conviction.
Of the two offences, careless driving and dangerous driving, only dangerous driving is treated as a criminal offence under Canada’s Criminal Code s. 249(1)(a). Dangerous driving, or ‘dangerous operation of a motor vehicle’ is defined as driving a motor vehicle “in a manner that is dangerous to the public, having regard to all the circumstances, including the nature, condition and use of the place at which the motor vehicle is being operated and the amount of traffic that at the time is or might reasonably be expected to be at that place.”
In the landmark case, R. v. Beatty (2008), Canada’s highest court held that “a moment of lapse of attention” during a period of normal driving is not sufficient to garner a dangerous driving conviction. The court further stated that drivers cannot be held to a standard of perfection and even good drivers sometimes have momentary lapses of attention. Depending on the specific circumstances of the case, this type of lapse may warrant a careless driving charge or a civil action, but will generally “not rise to the level of a marked departure required for a conviction for dangerous driving”.
Because dangerous driving is a criminal offence, being convicted of dangerous driving has all the negative consequences of a criminal conviction, including being barred from travelling to the United States and difficulty changing jobs. In addition to these problems, a dangerous driving conviction will hugely impact your vehicle insurance rates for years in the future and will result in an automatic 1-year suspension of your driver’s licence if this is your first offence, with longer suspensions if it is a second or third conviction.
The charge of dangerous driving carries a maximum jail sentence of 5 years. However, if a person was injured or killed as a result of your alleged actions, you may be charged with dangerous operation causing bodily harm (which carries a maximum of 10 years in jail) or dangerous operation causing death (which carries a maximum of 14 years in jail).
Clearly, a dangerous driving conviction has serious repercussions on your life and certainly justifies a strong defence. Here are two recent Toronto criminal trials involving a charge of dangerous driving, where the accused persons were found ‘not guilty’ of the charge.
In R. v. Allaudin (2019), the prosecution sought convictions for dangerous driving, mischief and conspiracy to commit both offences against two young men who were involved with an organized motorcycle ride involving 100 or more motorcyclists in Toronto and the GTA. Before the ride, the riders met in a Mississauga parking lot where one of the accused, Mr. Allaudin, gave them instructions. The types of actions taken by the riders included: driving at high speed on the highways and passing other vehicles, sometimes on the shoulder; and stopping traffic for short periods to perform stunts. An under-cover police officer participated in the event and took video footage with a GoPro camera attached to his motorcycle.
Justice Band dismissed the dangerous driving charge against both accused men, Mr. Lannon and Mr. Allaudin, but for different reasons. The charge against one of the men, Mr. Lannon, resulted after he was identified as a rider who was performing wheelies at high speeds on Toronto area highways, and his identification was based on a cell phone photograph taken by the under-cover officer in a parking lot where many riders had congregated. Apart from allegedly observing and photographing Mr. Lannon on the day of the ride, the officer didn’t see the accused again until his court appearance. The judge found that the photograph didn’t show enough of Mr. Lannon’s face and features to properly identify him and after questioning the officer, the Crown “all but conceded that the officer’s in-court identification of Mr. Lannon was not entitled to much weight, if any”. Justice Band dismissed all charges against Mr. Lannon and concluded that the photographic evidence fell “far short of being clear and convincing enough to prove [the accused’s] identify beyond a reasonable doubt”.
The dangerous driving charges against Mr. Allaudin arose out of his own riding as well as for encouraging other riders to engage in risky riding. Justice Band believed that some of the riding that occurred during the Toronto event was dangerous and met the threshold of a “marked departure from the standard of a reasonable motorcycle rider”, such as weaving in and out of traffic at high speeds and slamming on the brakes in front of cars. However, the judge stated that there was no evidence that Mr. Allaudin was involved in these dangerous actions, including speeding; rather, his personal actions were limited to performing wheelies and riding without his hands for short periods while at the front of the pack. Further, although Mr. Allaudin was involved in organizing some of the circumstances of the event, the riders were doing what they pleased and Mr. Allaudin’s speech was limited to suggesting that riders perform ‘wheelies’ while they were at the front of the pack. Consequently, the Justice Band concluded that there is reasonable doubt that Mr. Allaudin’s actions, although risky, endangered other road users or qualified as a ‘marked departure’. Both dangerous driving charges were dismissed against Mr. Allaudin.
In R. v. Rasaratnam (2019), a man was charged with dangerous driving causing death after he made an illegal U-turn onto Bayview Ave. in Toronto. A motorcyclist who rounded a nearby curve in the road was unable to avoid Mr. Rasaratnam’s car which unexpectedly appeared on the road, and the motorcyclist sustained fatal injuries when she crashed into the car and became trapped underneath. The judge found that the U-turn constituted a traffic violation and was ill-advised, and also that it caused the young woman’s death. However, on the questions of whether Rasaratnam’s action was: 1) objectively dangerous and 2) “a marked departure from the standard of care that a reasonably prudent driver would exercise in the circumstances”, the judge decided that the accused’s driving only met the criteria of being objectively dangerous.
The judge did not believe that Mr. Rasatnam’s driving met the mens rea of dangerous driving or “a marked departure in standard of care”, based on his driving actions leading up to the collision. There was no evidence that the accused wasn’t driving in a prudent and reasonable manner before the U-turn. The judge accepted evidence from Mr. Rasaratnam’s partner, who was a passenger in his car, that he looked both ways and didn’t see any traffic before proceeding onto the road because the curve in the traffic limited his view to 84 meters (which is much less than the 150 meters required under the HTA for a U-turn). The judge noted that making the U-turn under these circumstances did not meet the standard of a prudent driver, but this threshold does not meet the definition of dangerous driving, particularly because he first stopped and looked before turning and the short time it took for him to look both ways “was not consistent with a deliberate decision to engage in driving he subjectively knew to be dangerous”. Although Mr. Rasaratnam had some responsibility for the tragic death of the motorcyclist, the judge found he must find Mr. Rasaratnam ‘not guilty’ of dangerous driving.
A dangerous driving charge is often laid at the discretion of the arresting officer and an objective review of the circumstances surrounding the incident may reveal that your driving actions don’t actually meet the legal definition of dangerous driving. If you were charged with dangerous driving, talk to a skilled Toronto criminal lawyer with substantial experience in defending clients charged with a driving-related offence.