Reckless driving: what the Criminal Code says

Depending on whether you consult the Criminal Code or the Highway Safety Code, dangerous operation (commonly called “reckless driving”) has a different definition and different penalties. Therefore, it’s useful to find out exactly what the Criminal Code says in order to avoid conflating the offense with its highway safety counterpart.

Reckless driving according to the Criminal Code: required proof

According to the Criminal Code, the definition of dangerous operation is essentially driving a motor vehicle recklessly or dangerously, consequently exposing the public to a severe risk of injury or death. The contexts in which this comes up most often are passing, excessive speed and failure to abide by traffic regulations.

To bring an accusation of reckless driving, it’s necessary to prove the following beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • That the accused was the person driving
  • That the person knowingly assumed control of the vehicle
  • That the person’s driving posed a danger to the public
  • That the person knowingly had physical control of the vehicle’s steering
  • That, in the case of injuries or death, there was a relationship of cause and effect between the reckless driving and the injuries or fatality

The first challenge, therefore, is to prove that the person had full control of the vehicle. In other words, a person who falls asleep or becomes ill while driving cannot face charges of reckless driving, given that he or she was not exercising conscious control of the vehicle at that moment.

The second challenge is to confirm that the person’s driving represented a threat to public safety. A number of different factors, including the time of day, the condition of the pavement, visibility, weather conditions and traffic density, will come into play when making an objective evaluation.

The third and final challenge concerns the behavior of the person behind the wheel. Did it constitute a marked deviation from the behavior a reasonable person would exhibit under the same circumstances?

To clear up any doubts regarding the assessment of reckless driving, you should be aware that a momentary lapse of attention does not qualify as dangerous operation. On the other hand, a person in the front passenger seat who takes control of the vehicle, even if only for an instant, can face charges of reckless driving.

Concrete examples and the penalties incurred

Jurisprudence has recognized cases of reckless driving that can illustrate the matter more thoroughly. These include the following:

  • Driving on the wrong side of the road without checking to see if there’s oncoming traffic
  • Texting while driving and hitting a pedestrian
  • Crossing a double line to pass a mobile crane that’s entering a parking lot

Merely driving above the speed limit doesn’t necessarily constitute reckless driving. The same goes for driving with impaired faculties.

With regard to the penalties incurred, they’ll depend on the type of legal proceedings, which may take the form of either an indictment or a summary conviction, the latter of which imposes less severe penalties.

  • In the case of an indictment, the maximum penalty is 10 years’ imprisonment.
  • In the case of a summary conviction, there’s a maximum prison sentence of two years minus one day or a maximum fine of $5,000.

Reckless driving resulting in bodily injury or death always leads to an indictment.

  • In the event of bodily injury, the maximum penalty is 10 years’ imprisonment.
  • In the event of a fatality, the maximum penalty is 14 years’ imprisonment.

There are defense strategies for having a charge of reckless driving withdrawn. However, since it involves an offense that’s difficult to establish, your best option is to turn to the law offices of criminal attorney Martine Thibodeau for assistance. As a specialist in violations of criminal law, Ms. Thibodeau will know exactly which approach to use in your situation in order to offer you the best possible defense.

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