The Criminal Code defines dangerous driving as operating “a motor vehicle in a manner that is dangerous to the public.” Convictions for dangerous driving require driving in a way that is markedly unreasonable given all the conditions and circumstances. This means that the police and courts will judge the driver’s actions against how a reasonable driver would have acted under the same set of circumstances. It is not necessary for a driver to intend to endanger the public, it is enough that the driver acted without the care that a reasonable person would use to safely operate a motor vehicle.
Because of constantly changing circumstances, such as weather and traffic conditions, there is no clear definition of what actions constitute dangerous driving. Police have a great deal of discretion in the field to determine whether a driver’s actions are dangerous in the given situation. Many times, the same action can be unreasonable in one instance and not another. For example, exceeding the speed limit to keep up with the surrounding traffic is not as dangerous as speeding around cars that have slowed (remember that exceeding the speed limit is always illegal). Some of the more common driving errors that can result in dangerous driving charges are excessive speeding, abrupt or careless lane changes, driving while intoxicated, and aggressive driving such as following the car in front of you too closely.
Like the speeding example above, many of the actions considered dangerous are illegal in and of themselves but given the circumstances, the conduct poses an extra risk to public safety. A person charged with dangerous driving can also receive additional tickets, fines or other charges for the underlying illegal conduct.
Unlike a speeding ticket, the charge of dangerous driving is a serious criminal offence and can be punishable by up to five years in prison, even if the driving does not lead to personal injury or property damage. If the driving does cause serious bodily injury or death, the maximum sentence increases to ten or fourteen years, respectively. In addition to possible jail time and the permanent mark on a criminal record, a dangerous driving conviction in Ontario will automatically include a one-year suspension of driving privileges for a first offence.
While there are options for defending against or reducing dangerous driving charges, the wide variety of circumstances under which this crime is charged requires a tailored approach. By speaking with a lawyer, you can learn more about the options that may be available for your specific case.