Province of Ontario introduces new penalties for careless drivers causing death

Ghost bike
CC BY 2.0 Ghost bike on Toronto Street/ Lloyd Alter

Drivers used to get away with murder; new legislation is much stronger.

One person is killed on the roads in Canada’s province of Ontario every 17 hours. But often it seems that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime, or it isn’t even defined as a crime. So the Transportation Minister, Steven Del Duca, has announced that they are getting serious about protecting pedestrians and cyclists and reducing the number of people killed or injured by impaired, distracted and dangerous drivers. Measures include:

  • A new offence for careless driving causing death or bodily harm with penalties that include fines, licence suspension and imprisonment
  • Tougher penalties for distracted driving, such as using a cellphone while operating a vehicle, including higher fines, more demerit points, and license suspensions
  • Increased penalties for drivers who fail to yield for pedestrians and escalating fines for drivers who are convicted of multiple pedestrian-related offences within a five-year window.
According to Oliver Moore in the Globe and Mail,
Among their new measures, the government plans to amend the province's Highway Traffic Act to add a charge of careless driving that causes death or bodily harm. Upon conviction, the charge would carry a fine of between $2,000 and $50,000, up to two years in jail and a licence suspension of up to five years.

This kind of legislation has been needed across Canada; pedestrians and cyclists are often killed and the penalties are small; the person charged often doesn’t even have to show up in court, as charges would be pleaded down from criminal offences to Highway Traffic Act offences with much lower penalties. As Oliver Moore notes,

Most drivers involved in deadly collisions face nothing more severe than a careless driving charge. Heather Sim described the "shock" of learning that the driver who killed her father this year as he rode his bicycle had been charged only with making an improper turn. "He would have got a higher [punishment] if he'd been driving in the HOV lane with no one in the car with him," she said.

And really, in this car-centric world, people still don’t get that it’s serious; as Ben Spurr of the Star tweeted from the press conference, it did not take long for a bit of victim blaming start.

Also present at the press conference was Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, Eleanor McMahon, whose husband was killed by a careless driver while cycling on a country road. According to Jane Taber in the Globe and Mail,

The man who killed her husband – local truck driver Michael Dougan – was found guilty of careless driving and sentenced to 100 hours of community service and lost his driver's licence for a year. At his sentencing, she discovered he had five violations for driving with a suspended licence and $14,000 in fines. Two months after the accident that killed her husband, he was charged again with another traffic offence.

It’s a perfect example of why this kind of legislation was needed. But don’t forget:

Province of Ontario introduces new penalties for careless drivers causing death
Drivers used to get away with murder; new legislation is much stronger.

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