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What is dangerous driving and criminal negligence?

Man holding a bottle of alcohol while driving a car
Photo: iStock

Have you ever faced this scenario? You are driving along, and suddenly you see a car weaving in and out of the lane and completing some other dangerous maneuver.

What do you do? A good piece of advice would be to stop safely, note the person’s license number and call the police. Dangerous driving is a public danger, and the law sees it as such and takes it very seriously.

Dangerous driving

Dangerous driving is not limited to erratic behaviour on the road, it also includes road racing.

The 1993 case R v. McKenzie is a good example of what dangerous behaviour on the road entails. The driver was not only speeding, but while he was speeding, his headlights were off and he ended up hitting another vehicle.

In Canada, dangerous driving or “dangerous operation of a motor vehicle” is a criminal offence under s. 249 of the Criminal Code of Canada, which reads:

(1) Every one commits an offence who operates

(a) 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.

The government prosecutor has to prove:

  1. The accused was actually behind the wheel;
  2. The way the accused drove was dangerous to the public;
  3. The manner in which the vehicle was operated was dangerous and the accused should have known that.

Being charged with dangerous driving is only once facet of the dangerous driving offence.

Criminal negligence

A person can also be charged with criminal negligence if they are found to be driving in a fashion dangerous to the public.

This criminal offence is under s. 219 of the Criminal Code and reads:

(1) Every one is criminally negligent who

  • (a) in doing anything, or
  • (b) in omitting to do anything that it is his duty to do, shows wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of other persons.

Penalties

For dangerous operation of a motor vehicle, the penalties are divided depending on whether injury or death was caused:

When one is found to contravene s. 249(1), but no bodily harm or death was caused, the punishment is:

(a) Guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years; or

(b) Guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.

When injury is caused while operating the vehicle dangerous, then the penalty is:

“Every one who commits an offence under subsection (1) and thereby causes bodily harm to any other person is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years.”

In the worst case scenario, where death was caused due to dangerous driving, the penalty is:

“Every one who commits an offence under subsection (1) and thereby causes the death of any other person is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years.”

For criminal negligence, the penalty is listed under s. 221 of the criminal code and reads:

“Every one who by criminal negligence causes bodily harm to another person is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years.”

Note the difference between the dangerous operation of a motor vehicle penalty (if no harm or death was caused), and the criminal negligence penalty. Criminal negligence is only treated as an indictable (serious) offence and can carry a longer sentence, as the maximum allowance is up to 10 years in prison.

Also keep in mind that you won’t just be charged under federal statute for these offenses, but likely you will also incur provincial penalties.

Furthermore, if you are convicted of either of these offenses, or any of the others for which your license can also be suspended and found guilty, then you will receive a one-year license suspension.

A second criminal conviction will net you a three year license suspension. A third offense will give you a lifetime suspension from driving. However, you will be able to re-apply for your license after 10 years.

Read more:

Criminal Code of Canada – Criminal Negligence

Criminal Code Driving Suspensions