What counts as careless driving in Ontario?

​Your cell phone slips off the passenger seat and you reach down to grab it before it slides into the icky abyss under the seat, but something’s already happened. The moment you looked away, the car in front of you hit the breaks and you ended up causing a fender bender, earning yourself a charge for careless driving in Ontario. It can affect your car insurance rates, too.

While a pretty common offence, it holds some weight because there can be serious consequences when bodily injury or death are involved. Aside from rear-ending someone, what is careless driving?

Every person is guilty of the offence of careless driving and driving carelessly who drives a vehicle on a highway without due care and attention, or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the highway.”

Ontario Highway Traffic Act 

These are the four main reasons you might find yourself looking at a hefty fine, but it’s not exhaustive.

  1. Not considering the road conditions.
  2. Not paying attention to other vehicles.
  3. Failing to consider pedestrians.
  4. Driving infractions observed by the police officer (e.g. tailgating).

Why is careless driving in Ontario such a confusing and contested fine? It’s because those four reasons are open to the interpretation of the police officer who issues the ticket. Many people end up successfully disputing the charge in court, as it’s the judge who makes the final decision, but few people want to take a day off to go to court.

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What counts as careless driving in Ontario?

Careless driving tickets can be issued for bad habits that are pretty commonplace on the road, which can confuse people further. We all have people in our lives who do one or two of these things on this list:

  • A collision with another vehicle.
  • Tailgating and/or rear-ending another vehicle.
  • Passing another vehicle in an aggressive manner.
  • Failing to yield to pedestrians on a crosswalk.
  • Eating or drinking while driving.
  • Putting on makeup while driving.
  • Failing to yield to the right of way of another vehicle.
  • Overtaking and forcing your way into a line of vehicles waiting to turn or exit.

The severity of those mistakes can inform an officer’s decision to issue the ticket for careless driving in Ontario—some even have their own charges, like using a phone while driving.

That’s why some instances result in a ticket while others don’t. For example, an officer might not think twice about a driver taking a quick sip of coffee, but that officer might also issue a ticket to someone trying to unwrap a burger while driving.

Either way, we strongly recommend that you just avoid all of those behaviours!

A middle-aged lady committing careless driving in Ontario by applying lipstick behind the wheel.

What do I need to know about my careless driving charge?

It isn’t the end of the world if you’ve been charged. Just keep these five things in mind as you decide whether to take your lumps or dispute the charge:

  1. An accident does not have to occur to warrant a careless driving charge. Even if you perform an action on the road that shows carelessness or unsafe driving practices, you can still get a ticket.
  2. A careless driving charge doesn’t mean that the driver was driving dangerously or acting in a criminal manner.
  3. The careless driving charge will stay on your driving record for about three years.
  4. Your insurance premiums will likely increase with a careless driving ticket, since it results in demerit points.
  5. Know your existing demerit points, as earning more could put your license at risk of suspension.

Demerit points affect your car insurance rates, so it’s still worthwhile to avoid careless driving behaviours from a financial perspective—aside from personal responsibility and maintaining safe roads for everyone.

What are the charges for careless driving in Ontario?

Ontario’s fines for careless driving charges were increased in September 2018, giving out larger fines and and even possible jail time for serious convictions. This puts the penalty much closer to that of dangerous driving, which is a criminal offense.

“731 people have died in the last nine years because of distracted or inattentive related collisions…31 people dead so far this year (2018) in the province because of the same factor.”

Provincial Police Sergeant Kerry Schmidt, CTV News Ottawa

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You should know there are two versions of the charge for careless driving in Ontario.

  1. Version 1 is careless driving not causing bodily harm or death.
  2. Version 2 is careless driving causing bodily harm or death.

Note the section number on your ticket! If it says section number 130(1), that’s version one; version two is denoted with 130(3).

If you are convicted, you could face the following consequences depending on your existing driving record.

Version 1: careless driving not causing bodily harm

  • A minimum fine of $400 and maximum fine of $2,000.
  • Imprisonment for a term of no more than six months (for extremely serious cases).
  • Potential license suspension for up to two years.
  • Upon conviction, your license may be suspended if you have a G1, G2, M1, or M2.
  • 6 demerit points.

Middle-aged man eating a hamburger, committing careless driving in Ontario.

Version 2: careless driving causing bodily harm or death

  • A minimum fine of $2,000 and maximum fine of $50,000.
  • Imprisonment for up to two years (in serious cases).
  • Potential license suspension for up to five years.
  • 6 demerit points.

With a charge for careless driving in Ontario and at least six demerit points on your driving record, expect your insurance premiums to go up, too. Your car insurance policy could also be canceled if you tick any of these boxes on top of a serious careless driving charge:

  • Multiple demerit points are already on your driving record
  • Your license is suspended
  • The careless driving charge is due to an accident

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Dangerous driving vs careless driving

Would you be able to tell someone the difference between careless driving and dangerous driving? It’s a confusing clarification for many people, but basically it comes down to the fact that dangerous driving is a criminal offense, while careless driving is not.

Careless driving will only go on your driving record (which still affects your car insurance rates), while dangerous driving is more severe:

  • A criminal record for life
  • Criminal probation
  • Mandatory one-year drivers license suspension.
  • Possible jail time (up to five years without bodily harm and up to 10 – 14 years with bodily harm and/or death)
  • Increased insurance rates for at least five years or potential cancellation of insurance

How do I fight a careless driving charge?

As we mentioned before, people often fight (and win) careless driving charges because of the wide reliance on the officer’s discretion. If you’ve been fined, here are the steps you’ll need to take to fight your charge in court:

  1. Speak to your friends and family about the situation first and be as objective as possible: do you really have a strong case to fight the charge?
  2. Select option 3 on your ticket and mail it in or drop it off.
  3. You can either defend yourself in court or get some legal help (consider the severity of your situation—a lawyer may be worth the money!)
  4. At your court hearing, you must provide proof that demonstrates you were not driving carelessly and the police officer’s assessment of the situation was wrong.

If you can dispute the charge successfully, it will be removed from your driving record and you’ll walk out of court a free driver.

What if my fine doesn’t have a set amount?

If you don’t see a set dollar amount for your fine then there should be a court date written on the ticket. That means you must appear on that date to defend yourself (otherwise known as a summons).

You don’t want that to happen!

That’s everything you need to know about careless driving in Ontario. Keep your eyes on the road, don’t distract yourself, and make a habit of keeping safe distances to steer clear of charges.

Seriously, what else can you do in 3 minutes?

Boil half an egg?

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