What is the difference between careless driving and reckless/dangerous driving?
Careless driving and reckless driving under Quebec law are often confused and conflated, there exists between them a very important distinction that everyone should know.
Many of our clients, here at Ticket911.ca, frequently use the terms “reckless driving” and “careless driving” interchangeably but there is in fact a significant difference between the two. While both citations indicate that a motor vehicle is being operated in an irresponsible manner, the potential penalties are very different. Before, explaining each offence individually it is important to note that careless driving is the less serious between the two.
Let’s start with careless driving. In the Quebec Highway Safety Code careless driving can be found under article 327 and is defined as “Any rate of speed or any action that can endanger human life and safety or property is prohibited. In addition to public highways, this section applies on highways under the administration of or maintained by the Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune, on private roads open to public vehicular traffic, as well as on land occupied by shopping centres and other land where public traffic is allowed.” In other words, careless driving is a driving violation punishable with heavy fines and the loss of four demerit points from your driver’s license. Having this infraction on your driving record for the two years following the day you pled guilty can lead to a spike in your insurance rates as well as the possible suspension of your driver’s license should you hit your limit of demerit points.
Infractions given for careless driving are often referred to as a catch-all citation as they are given in a wide ranging number of situations, not always related to the speed at which someone is driving. For example, in Quebec, police officers often give careless driving citations to drivers they believe to be at fault in a car accident. They are particularly common in rear-end accidents where the police officer did not witness the accident and the victim in the accident did not know or see why the accident occurred. In addition, at times police officers have given the same infraction to a driver doing wheelies in a parking lot. As the law is open for such large interpretation. Below is a list of reasons a police officer may find you were allegedly contravening this particular article:
● Failing to maintain a safe distance from other vehicles.
● Failing to check mirrors when reversing or changing directions.
● Making risky or unsafe passing maneuvers.
● Running a red light or stop sign.
● Excessive speeding or street racing.
● Accidents involving pedestrians and cyclists.
● A crash caused because of a careless action – such as texting and driving.
● Any other situation where proper or adequate care is NOT taken.
To summarize, careless driving can be somewhat confusing due to the open nature of the law. It is essentially a charge or ticket that is given out by a police officer usually when they deem a driver was not using the proper care or failed to properly pay attention and drive safely.
Unlike a careless driving charge which is a penal offense in Quebec, reckless or dangerous driving is a criminal one. According to the Criminal Code of Canada section 249(1)(a), dangerous driving is described as: s. 249 (1) Every one commits an offence who operates (a) a motor vehicle in a manner that is dangerous to the public, having regard to all the circumstances, including the nature, condition and use of the place at which the motor vehicle is being operated and the amount of traffic that at the time is or might reasonably be expected to be at that place.
This means that instead of receiving a ticket a police officer will charge you with dangerous driving and place you under arrest. It is then for the prosecutor to prove your state of mind in order for you to be found guilty in front of a judge. Specifically, they must prove that you operated the vehicle with willful disregard for the safety of other people and/or property. Should you be found guilty you will face hefty penalties including the potential of a criminal record that could follow you forever. Therefore, should you find yourself facing a dangerous driving charge it is often prudent that you attempt to contest it.
If you now compare the infraction of careless driving with the charge of dangerous driving you will find several important difference. Firstly, careless driving is a penal infraction governed by the Highway Traffic Act, while dangerous driving is found the Criminal Code of Canada. Secondly, the penalties for dangerous driving are much more severe than careless driving, the former leading to a criminal record if convicted. To conclude, a careless driving charge is a penal offense in Quebec, while a reckless or dangerous driving charge is a criminal offense.
If you have received a careless driving ticket or have been arrested for reckless or dangerous driving and have questions, call Ticket911.ca for a free consultation. We handle careless driving tickets and reckless/dangerous driving offences in Quebec, Ontario, and New York.