Ontario Promised Tough New Careless Driving Penalties. What Happened?

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In 2018, a new offence was added to Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act: careless driving causing bodily harm or death. The change was cheered by road safety activists and personal injury lawyers who believed it would close a glaring gap in existing road safety laws. More than two years later, the results have been disappointing, as detailed in a February 1 article in the Toronto Star.

Careless Driving Causing Bodily Harm or Death

Drivers convicted under the new offence, which came into effect in September 2018, face fines of up to $50,000, license suspensions of up to five years, and up to two years in prison.

The offence aimed to address a critical need in the province’s road safety rules. Under previous laws, drivers who killed or severely injured someone would only face criminal charges if they committed the absolute worst of driving offences, such as impaired driving. Other drivers in fatal and serious accidents would be convicted only of non-criminal charges, such as failing to stop for pedestrians. These charges carried light penalties.

The hefty fines and serious jail time threatened under the new offence aimed to bridge the gap between those two disparate sets of punishments.

How Has the Offence Been Enforced?

According to the Star’s report, serious penalties under the new charge have been few and far between. Of the 144 drivers charged between September 2018 and December 2020, 80 were not convicted, 29 received a fine, and 28 received probation. Nobody has received the maximum fine, and just four drivers have landed in jail.

These light punishments occurred despite serious accidents remaining common. The Star shared several examples of people being killed by careless drivers who received lenient sentences. Many personal injury lawyers have helped clients facing similar ordeals.

In one example, a 13-year-old Ottawa boy was struck and killed while riding his bike in 2019. The 80-year-old driver plead guilty to careless driving causing death and admitted to not wearing the prescription glasses his license required. He received a $5,000 fine and a four-year driving ban.

“I don’t think it’s justice,” the boy’s father told the Star. “The only message I’m getting from this (is) that anybody can hit somebody and kill them and (the driver) is going to be OK.”

In another example, a 63-year-old woman was struck and killed by a minivan in Stratford. The driver fled the scene but eventually turned herself in. She plead guilty and received a $2,000 fine, a six-month driving ban, and two years of probation.

In a third example, a 40-year-old woman was struck and killed by a driver in Bradford. In this case, the driver wasn’t even charged under the new offence – they instead faced charges of failing to yield to a pedestrian.

Contact Neinstein Personal Injury Lawyers

If you or a member of your family has been injured in a car accident, contact Neinstein Personal Injury Lawyers today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation. When law enforcement in Ontario is unwilling to charge careless drivers for their serious crimes, accident victims look to the civil justice system for compensation. Our team of personal injury lawyers is prepared to help your family secure the justice they deserve.


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Greg Neinstein, B.A. LLB., is the Managing Partner at Neinstein Personal Injury Lawyers LLP. His practice focuses on serious injury and complex insurance claims, including motor vehicle accidents, slip and fall injuries, long-term disability claims and insurance claims. Greg has extensive mediation and trial experience and has a reputation among his colleagues as a skillful negotiator.
Greg Neinstein
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