Dangerous driving and careless driving are easily confused – but very different in terms of their consequences for Ontario drivers.

It is important to understand the differences as one of these charges can leave you with a lifelong criminal record that will show on background checks for employers, landlords, and so on.

If you are charged with either offence, be clear on the potential consequences and seek the assistance of an experienced driving offence lawyer at Affordable Defence in Ottawa.

What are dangerous driving/careless driving charges? 

The most fundamental difference between the charges is that dangerous driving is a criminal charge prosecuted by the Crown under the Criminal Code while careless driving is a non-criminal charge prosecuted under the Ontario Highway Traffic Act.

A careless driving conviction will land you with a traffic ticket. That’s not to say you can take it lightly – you could still end up with a jail term but a fine is more likely.

However, you will not end up with a lifelong criminal record like with a dangerous driving conviction: quite a difference.

With dangerous driving, your photograph and fingerprints are taken and you will have a police file.

To convict you of dangerous driving, the burden of proof is higher for the prosecution, who must prove that:

  • You had the intent to commit the driving action
  • The driving action took place in a public area
  • The driving action was dangerous
  • You were driving a motor vehicle as defined by the Criminal Code of Canada

Note that to be convicted of dangerous driving, you do not need to have caused an accident and injuries to another individual are not necessary.

For careless driving, a provincial prosecutor will need to prove that:

  • The offence occurred on a roadway in Ontario
  • You drove without “due care and attention or without reasonable consideration” for other road users
  • You were driving a motor vehicle as defined by the Highway Traffic Act of Ontario

Note that no intent or injury to another person is necessary for a careless driving conviction. 

The law recognizes that people make honest mistakes on the roads. So, a momentary lapse in concentration while driving may not be enough for a careless driving charge. 

And, in a Supreme Court of Canada case from 2008, it was declared that dangerous driving requires a “marked departure” from normal driving conduct. 

However, exercising due consideration for other road users is a matter of public safety and is expected at all times.

Penalties for dangerous driving charges  

The penalties associated with a conviction for dangerous driving may include:

  • A prison sentence of up to five years (up to 10 years if injury results and 14 years if your actions result in the death of another individual)
  • A mandatory criminal driving suspension of one year for a first conviction (longer for subsequent convictions)
  • A substantial fine
  • A period of probation

These are the immediate punishments. The longer-term effects include a criminal record that can restrict your rights and freedoms in the future and higher insurance premiums for at least the next five years.

Penalties for careless driving charges 

The penalties associated with careless driving may include:

  • A fine of between $400 and $2,000 (or double this in some specific locations)
  • A possible six-month jail term 
  • A licence suspension of up to two years
  • Six demerit points (which remain on your license for three years)

In reality, jail time is rarely served with a standard careless driving conviction. Plea bargains with the prosecution are common and an experienced traffic offence lawyer will attempt to downgrade the charge and minimize the consequences for your future.

Since 2018, however, a more serious offence of careless driving causing bodily harm or death has been added to the Ontario Highway Traffic Act. 

This can lead to the following penalties:

  • A fine of between $2,000 and $50,000
  • A possible two-year jail term 
  • A licence suspension of up to five years
  • Six demerit points (which remain on your license for three years)

Dangerous driving and license suspension in Ontario

As you can see from the penalties associated with dangerous driving and careless driving, serious breaches of the Ontario Highway Traffic Act or the sections of the Criminal Code relating to actions on the road will result in a licence suspension of some duration.

A conviction for dangerous driving under the Criminal Code will generally mean a license suspension of one year for your first conviction, increasing for subsequent convictions up to a lifetime ban.

If you are convicted under the Criminal Code, the offence will remain on your driving record for 10 years. 

How to fight a dangerous driving charge in Ottawa 

The circumstances of every traffic offence are different. The details are exceptionally important in every case.

That’s why a defence for a dangerous driving charge in Ottawa starts by sitting down with one of our traffic offence lawyers and going over what happened before, during and after the incident.

We will examine all of the evidence against you in fine detail. Even if there is substantial evidence, you have a good chance of escaping a conviction with our experience in these cases.

Law enforcement frequently make errors during the arrest and charge process that can lead to evidence being inadmissible and the case dismissed. Factual evidence can also often be questioned, as can the intent of the driver in dangerous driving cases.

Frequently, dangerous driving charges can be downgraded to careless driving with no criminal conviction.

If you or a loved one has been arrested and charged with a serious driving offence in Ottawa, contact one of the experienced criminal defence lawyers at Affordable Defence for a free initial consultation.