Police officers often give out careless driving tickets in the event of a car accident. It is no wonder: the very fact that the accident happened suggests that one or both drivers did not pay sufficient attention or thought required to avoid it.
What else we can say about careless driving tickets? There are many facts which are well known and understood. A careless driving ticket is one of the most serious offences included in the Ontario Highway Traffic Act. Such a traffic ticket bears 6 demerit points, and a record of a careless driving conviction stays for three years. In most cases, a careless driving ticket includes a set fine in the total payable amount of $490.00. In extreme situations, a punishment can be as high as $1000.00 fine or 6 months of imprisonment combined with a driver license suspension.
Everybody is aware that insurance companies do not love drivers convicted of careless driving. In many cases they just cancel insurance coverage upon receiving information about a careless driving conviction.
To make a long story short, there are many reasons to not leave a careless driving ticket unattended. In view of this proposition, it would be useful to look into what a careless driving offence really is. The Oxford dictionary defines the word “careless” as not giving sufficient attention or thought to avoiding harm or errors. With this definition, you have a good grasp of “careless driving”. Nevertheless, the specifics of a careless driving ticket merit some further explanation.
The legislative definition of careless driving is set in section 130 of the Highway Traffic Act, which says that “every person is guilty of the offence of driving carelessly who drives a vehicle or street car on a highway without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the highway”. Simple logic, supported by many court precedents, suggests that at least one of two elements must be proven by prosecution to get a driver convicted: a driver either drove the car on a public road without due care and attention, or operated it without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road.
Looks simple? Not so fast. There are many conditions, worked out by court practice, under which a conviction of careless driving cannot be warranted. Here are some of them:
- Mere inadvertent negligence, for example, momentary distraction caused by some unexpected external factor, will not necessarily lead to a conviction of careless driving. If some deviation from the reasonable driving pattern was caused by a rock hitting the windshield or an unexpected animal in the driving lane, this may provide a defence against a careless driving charge.
- The driver need not exercise a perfect level of skill and care. A driver should not be expected to show perfect reaction times or a professional racer’s abilities while on the road. Rather, in considering a careless driving ticket, the judge would see whether the individual exercised a reasonable level of skill and did what an ordinary person would do under the same circumstances.
- In a careless driving ticket, there is no set of requirements for “due care and attention” that were established once and for all to be used in all careless driving cases. These requirements are considered by the court in each individual case, and depend on road, visibility, weather conditions, traffic conditions and any other conditions that ordinary prudent drivers would take into consideration.
- Further (and this is important), in order to be convicted of a careless driving the ticket, the driver’s conduct must be of such a nature that it could be considered a breach of duty to the public, and deserving of punishment. This element must be present even if the driver’s conduct fell below the standard of a reasonable person.
- A motor vehicle accident, even a very serious one, is not indicative of careless driving. Rather, one should look into the way of driving and the situation-specific factors listed above, as well as other relevant circumstances.
Of course, the above is not comprehensive guidance that can be universally applied to defend a driver in each and every careless driving ticket. Yet, I hope that it provides some understanding of what is important and what is not when a careless driving case comes before the judge.