As exemplified in the below criminal trial, Canadian case law finds that a driver cannot be found guilty of a driving-related offence solely, or even partially, because their action had a bad outcome such as injuring another motorist. Rather, whether or not a defendant can be convicted of a driving-related charge depends on their actions under the circumstances of the accident.
In R. v. Horton (2018), an Ontario judge ruled that the defendant driver cannot be found guilty of ‘failing to yield’ for the sole reason that his mistake resulted in serious injuries to another person. This case involved the appeal of a previous conviction on the charge of failing to yield to oncoming traffic from a driveway, pursuant to the Highway Traffic Act (HTA) s. 139(1). In Horton, a motorcyclist was driving westbound on Achilles Road in Ajax, and had just passed two transport trailer trucks parked on either side of the road, when he was struck by an SUV exiting from an Infiniti dealership just beyond the parked trucks. The motorcyclist sustained a broken leg and other injuries as a result of the accident.
When the officer arrived at the scene of the accident, the truck that had been parked on the westbound side of the road was no longer there. The SUV driver told the officer that he had stopped and looked in both directions before he pulled out onto the street, and didn’t see the motorcycle. Nevertheless, the officer charged him with fail to yield.
Section 139(1) of the HTA requires that drivers entering a roadway from a side road or driveway must yield the right of way to all traffic on the roadway and cannot enter “so closely that to enter would constitute an immediate hazard”. In Horton, the Justice of the Peace held that the SUV driver was guilty of the offence after finding that the prosecution had successfully proven the actus reus of the offence (the conduct that constitutes the crime) beyond a reasonable doubt.
However, the Appeal Court held that the Justice of the Peace was in error when she determined guilt purely on actus reas because, once actus reus was proven, the onus should have been placed on the defendant to establish that he took reasonable care and exercised due diligence when he exited onto Achilles. Rd. Also, the Justice of the Peace made another error “by engaging in a credibility contest” between the SUV driver and the motorcyclist, rather than examining the totality of all the evidence.
In Horton, both the SUV driver and motorcyclist testified that the illegally parked tractor trailer prevented them from seeing one another until it was too late to prevent a collision. And, the defendant was able to produce a surveillance video that was taken at the Infiniti Dealership and aimed towards the driveway onto Achilles Rd, and the video supported the defendant’s account of the accident and showed that the transport truck had blocked about 6-8 feet of the Infiniti driveway.
The Appeal judge noted that the Justice of the Peace made a further error when she based her finding of guilt, at least partially, on the serious consequences of the accident. When citing the reasons for her judgement, the Justice of the Peace noted that the motorcyclist suffers from depression, is unable to return to work, fears getting into a car or motorcycle again, and both he and his family have been greatly impacted by the accident. The Appeal judge asserted that the significant consequences of the accident are completely irrelevant in assessing the evidence that must decide this case.
The Appeal judge concluded that the SUV driver took reasonable care in the circumstances and accordingly, the defendant was acquitted of the charge of failing to yield.
If you were charged with a driving offence such as careless driving, dangerous driving or failing to yield, get representation from a skilled Toronto criminal lawyer to ensure you have the strongest possible defence.