Is Canadian law too lenient when punishing driving offenders?

Police are only allowed to stop drivers when they reasonably suspect the driver is impaired or distracted.
Police are only allowed to stop drivers when they reasonably suspect the driver is impaired or distracted. (Photo: REUTERS/Stephanie Keith)

Hundreds of Canadians are killed every year due to drunk, distracted or careless drivers. Yet despite the seriousness of these offences, the punishments are often limited to fines, driver’s license suspensions, and on occasion, some jail time.

Such is the situation in the case of a woman who in 2014 jumped a curb in Scarborough, Ont, for no known reason, and killed a pedestrian who was a mother of three small boys. She was recently found guilty by an Ontario court for careless driving and has been given a $1,000 fine, a six-month driving ban and no jail time.

Given the slap on the wrist drivers get when committing driving offences, it’s no wonder such offences continue to be a big problem in Canada.

The Canadian Automobile Association reports that there are about 4 million car accidents in North America each year and a good portion of them are due to driving offences, which seem to be on the rise. Ontario Provincial Police recently laid “an astonishing” 104 charges for impaired driving during a weekend in late November.

These numbers are not surprising, as punishments for being caught driving impaired or distracted are minimal.

For a first offence of impaired driving, for instance, a driver is fined $1,000 and is forbidden to drive for one year. For distracted driving, there is usually a provincial fine and a loss of demerit points.

Police often conduct crackdowns and traffic blitzes to try to catch drivers that are drunk or distracted but even in trying to enforce driving laws, there are problems.

Police are only allowed to stop drivers when they reasonably suspect the driver is impaired or distracted. Even then, signs of being drunk or distracted are not always clear, meaning people can get away with committing driving offenses, which can later lead to injury or fatalities.

It’s true that if the driving offence caused a death, then the driver will usually get a jail sentence, but even then the jail sentence is often lenient. For example, an impaired Windsor, Ont. driver who caused the death his passenger, got a sentence of 19 months in jail, or less than two years.

In the face of penalties that contain little to no jail time, it’s no wonder that impaired drivers continue to cause chaos and mayhem on the roads and to those left to deal with the tragedies.

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