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


Careless Driving and Dangerous Driving are both serious offences that can have a significant impact on your insurance premiums, and your life. Careless Driving is a provincial offence that can in some cases double what you pay for insurance in Ontario, can get your license suspended, and could land you in jail for six months. Dangerous Driving is a criminal offence (federal jurisdiction) that will definitely cause you to lose your license and double what you normally pay for insurance, but a conviction means as much as 14 years in jail, and a criminal record.

If you find yourself with a Careless Driving or Dangerous Driving ticket in Ontario, it’s an understatement to say that you’re in a pickle. 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’s 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.

Careless driving vs. dangerous driving in Ontario
  Careless driving Careless driving causing bodily harm or death Dangerous driving
Demerit points 6 points 6 points None
License suspension Rarely Up to 5 years 1 year, or up to 10 years if you cause bodily harm
Fine Up to $2,000 $2,000 to $50,000 Up to $2,000
Jail time Rarely Up to 2 years Up to 14 years (causing death)
Criminal record No No Yes

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 driving 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…”. Common reasons you might be charged with Careless Driving in Ontario include:

  • If you get in an accident
  • If you’re tailgating
  • If you fail to yield to pedestrians at a crosswalk
  • If you pass another vehicle aggressively
  • If you back up or change lanes without checking your mirrors

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.

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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