Under Ontario law, the Highway Traffic Act, a driver who fails to remain at the scene of the accident faces a fine from $200.00 and up, and up to six months of imprisonment, together with seven demerit points. A driver would be charged under the Highway Traffic Act if the consequences of the accident were not very serious. A driver may also be charged with ‘fail to remain’ under federal law, the Criminal Code, and such an offence is punishable by up to five years in prison. This is reserved for failing to remain at scenes of accidents that caused serious bodily injury or death.
Most often, drivers are charged with failing to remain at the scene of the accident because they do not interpret the meaning of “accident” the same way the law does. Under the law, an “accident” is physical contact between vehicles. This means that any contact, even if it creates only a small, barely visible scratch, is considered an accident. Our advice is to remain at the scene until you are entirely sure that the situation has been resolved with the other driver and/or police, no matter how small the damage to vehicles may be.
In addition, the driver need not be directly involved in the accident to have the responsibility to remain at the scene. There is case law with respect to a situation where a driver organized and participated in a car race, and then left the scene when the other vehicle involved was in an accident. Under these circumstances, the driver who left was found guilty of failing to remain at the scene of the accident even though he was not directly involved.
If you are charged with failing to remain at the scene of an accident, you should definitely dispute the charge. Failing to remain is one of the most serious offences under the Highway Traffic Act, and with a penalty of seven demerit points, if you are convicted, you will find it difficult to keep or find your insurance, and perhaps even your driver’s license.
Once you do dispute the charge, your two options are to settle it with the prosecution so you are not convicted of fail to remain, but of something else, or proceed with a trial, arguing that you are not guilty of any offence. Whether to go to trial is a very important decision, since a trial carries the risk of loss, in which case you would be convicted of fail to remain and receive the associated penalties. We suggest that especially for serious charges like fail to remain, you contact a legal professional before deciding how to proceed.