spedometer displaying dangerously high rate of speed

June 9, 2020 | Updated March 28, 2024

Careless & dangerous driving in Ontario: Laws, fines, & penalties

4 min read


Careless and Dangerous driving are both serious offences that can have a significant impact on your insurance premiums, and your life. It’s an understatement to say that you’re in a pickle if you find yourself with a Careless or Dangerous Driving ticket in Ontario.

Both offences come with significant penalties and other penalties if you plead guilty or are convicted in court. They also can have a dramatic impact on what you pay for auto insurance in the province.

What is the difference between “Careless Driving” and “Dangerous Driving?”

Careless Driving and Dangerous Driving are very similar tickets, but one is a federal criminal offence (Dangerous Driving), while the other is a provincial offence under Onario’s Highway Traffic Act. The big difference in police charging you with one or the other is intent. Dangerous Driving requires that you intentionally did something that put the public at risk, whereas you can be convicted of Careless Driving even if you just weren’t being careful enough. Neither charge requires that you actually get in an accident.

In terms of consequences, Dangerous Driving comes with a criminal record, a mandatory license suspension, and possible jail time. Careless Driving allows for a suspension and six months jail time, but courts rarely apply either penalty. It will cost you six demerit points and a fine of up to $2,500 in Ontario.

Insurance consequences for the two offences are very similar as both tickets are considered “serious”, meaning that either one will label you as high-risk for the next three years. Dangerous Driving could have an even greater impact if your license is suspended, as a suspension counts as a separate strike against you.

Because Dangerous Driving is a criminal offence that will follow you for the rest of your life, it’s quite common for people charged with Dangerous Driving to agree to plead guilty to Careless Driving instead.

Definitions of “Careless” and “Dangerous Driving”

Careless driving

Careless Driving is an offence under section 130 of Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act. It is described in the Act as driving a vehicle “…without due care and attention or without consideration for other persons…”. Police officers could issue a ticket for Careless Driving if they believe that the driver was:

  • Driving in a way that impacts the driver’s ability to adapt to changes on the road
  • Driving with little to no care or attention

In essence, if you are driving irresponsibly, police may charge you with Careless Driver. Below are some samples of Careless Driving:

  • Being distracted by an electronic device, like a cell phone
  • Following a vehicle too closely to ensure adequate time to stop
  • Driving too fast for current road conditions
  • Entering a curve too fast and losing control
  • Minimal attention to hazards on road and/or
  • Minimal attention to the road
Table 1. Penalties for Careless Driving
Penalties for Careless Driving – s. 130(2) of the Highway Traffic Act
  • A minimum fine of $400 up to $2,000.
  • Potential jailtime of up to 6 months.
  • Potential suspension of driver’s license for up to two years.
  • Six demerit points added to your record.
Penalties for Careless Driving Causing Bodily Harm or Death – s. 130(4) of the Highway Traffic Act
  • A minimum fine of $2,000 up to $50,000.
  • Potential jailtime of up to 2 years.
  • Potential suspension of driver’s license for up to 5 years.
  • Six demerit points added to your record.

Dangerous driving

Because the language of this offence is pretty vague, it is one of the most common traffic charges laid by police.
Dangerous Driving is defined in section 320.13 of the Criminal Code as operating a motor vehicle “…in a manner that is dangerous to the public…”. You could be charged with this offence for any of the following reasons:

  • Going much faster than surrounding traffic
  • Driving too fast for the conditions (regardless of the speed limit)
  • Abrupt lane changes
  • Aggressive driving

Dangerous Driving is also worded vaguely, and so this ticket can be applied in addition to other charges like speeding or impaired driving, or if other more specific charges don’t quite apply. In order to be convicted of Dangerous Driving, the crown needs to prove that your actions were intentional.

Table 2. Penalties for Dangerous Driving
Dangerous Operation – s. 320.13(1) Up to 10 years in prison
Operation Causing Bodily Harm – s. 320.13(2)
  • If case is proceeded by indictment
    • Up to 14 years jailtime in addition to a fine of $1,000 (first offense), imprisonment of 30 days (second offense), and imprisonment for 120 days for each subsequent offense
  • If case proceeds summarily
    • A fine of up to $5,000, in addition to/potentially imprisonment up to 2 years. This is in addition to a minimum punishment of $1,000 (first time offense), imprisonment of 30 days (second offense), and imprisonment for 120 days for each subsequent offense
Operations Causing Death – s.320.13(3)
  • Up to life in prison, as well as a minimum punishment of:
    • $1,000 for a first offense
    • Imprisonment for 30 days for a second offense
    • For each subsequent offense, imprisonment ofr a term of 120 days

Judges may also consider certain aggravating circumstances, which are included in section 320.22 of the Criminal Code and are as follows:

  • The offender was driving in a street race with another participating vehicle on a public roadway, street, or highway;
  • The offense resulted in the injury or death of more than one other individual;
  • Someone under the age of 16 years-old was a passenger in the vehicle of the offender;
  • The offender has a blood alcohol concentration of equal to or exceeding 120mg alcohol/100ml of blood at the time of the offense;
  • The offender was in a large motor vehicle; and, finally,
  • The offender was not permitted by law to operate the vehicle.

How do these charges apply to new drivers?

Drivers on an Ontario learner’s permit (G1, G2, M1, M2), who get a Careless Driving ticket, and plead guilty or get convicted in court, will be subject to the same penalties as other drivers. They will also automatically have their license suspended for 30 days, because they will exceed 4 demerit points.

A Dangerous Driving ticket doesn’t carry any extra penalties for novice drivers.

What to do if you are charged

Being charged with any kind of offence can be stressful at the best of times. But it’s important to keep a level head about you. First of all, you need to consider all the potential impacts of a conviction before you decide whether to plead guilty, take it to court, and whether to spend money on a lawyer or paralegal.

You may be tempted to plead guilty because the fine is usually lower that way. But remember that the big cost is almost never the fine itself, but the impact on your insurance rates, and possibly even on your ability to make a living. If you’re charged with Dangerous Driving and think you can get that reduced to Careless Driving, it won’t help you with insurance, but it will help you avoid a criminal record, which stays with you forever, and can hurt your chances of finding or keeping employment.

In terms of the insurance implications, the dollar value is very hard to peg, because it depends on what else is on your record. As a base, it’s safe to assume that a conviction of Careless Driving or Dangerous Driving will at least double your auto insurance premium for the next 3 years. If you add this to the amount of the fine, you get a rough idea whether it’s worth paying for legal help.

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author avatar
Al Maggi Writer

Al Maggi is Mitch's senior writer and content editor. Al works closely with other members of the Mitch broker and executive team to make complex insurance topics understandable, and simpler ones interesting and informative.

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