What constitutes a careless driving offence?

A car speeding down a road.
A car speeding down a road. Stock photo from iStock/Getty Images.

A case that has just come out of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta, deals with the offence of careless driving and what constitutes careless driving.

R. v. Emery is an appeal case that sought to overturn a conviction of a guilty finding for careless driving charge made against Emery. Emery claimed the trial judge had erred in finding him guilty.

In this case, Emery, a truck driver, drove a commercial semi-trailer truck down a road on February 23, 2015, when he hit a Ford vehicle that had stopped in one of the lanes. The Ford was forced to come to a stop earlier, because it had run out of gas.

When Emery saw the vehicle he pressed hard on the brakes, which reduced his speed quite a bit, but not enough to prevent the collision with the Ford. Emery ended up hitting the Ford and the driver of the car, Mohamed Arbane, died as a result of the collision.

The trial judge’s findings of facts were that the road conditions were good, the road was well-lit, and Arbane did have his hazard lights on, so Emery should have been able to see him from far away.

The judge also pointed out that there were no obstructions in Emery’s view of the Ford. However, what ultimately made the trial judge conclude that Emery was guilty was that Emery had changed lanes into a lane he could not observe – which was the factor that made him careless.

In this case, the court looked at what defined careless driving, as found in the Traffic Safety Act of Alberta which defines the offence in the following way:

15(1)  For the purposes of this section, a driver of a vehicle is driving carelessly if that driver drives the vehicle

  • (a)   without due care and attention, or
  • (b)   without reasonable consideration for persons using the highway.

(2)  A person shall not do any of the following:

  • (b)   drive a vehicle on a highway in a manner that constitutes driving carelessly.

Yet what actually makes up the offence of careless driving? Both the appellant and respondent – as well as the court – cited the case of R. v. Beauchamp that talks about what forms the offence.

The offence has two components:

  • 1.  the accused has driven in a manner prohibited by the legislation; and
  • 2.  the conduct must be of such a nature that it can be considered a breach of duty to the public and deserving of punishment.

The court pointed out that, for the first factor, the legal standard which requires the exercising due care is:

“... is what the average careful man would have done in like circumstances … depending on road, visibility, weather conditions, traffic conditions that exist or may reasonably be expected, and any other conditions that ordinary prudent drivers would take into consideration. ...”

In terms of the second factor, the court cited the case R. v. Morrison, which concluded:

“[a] strict liability offence does not require proof of an additional element of blameworthiness or higher degree of culpability”.

Strict liability is defined in cases such as R. v. Sault Ste. Marie. The doing of the offence is enough to prove it; there is no need to prove intent. Though the prosecution has to prove that this offence was committed beyond a reasonable doubt, the accused can defend him or her self by showing he or she took all reasonable steps to avoid the accident.

The court points out that the test here is: “whether it is proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused, in the light of existing circumstances, failed to use the care and attention or to give to other users of the highway the consideration that a driver of ordinary care would have used or given in the circumstances.”

Both courts concluded that Emery did not use the care and attention that a driver of ordinary care would have used on a highway.

The Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta concluded that the trial judge did not make an error in his decision and that the finding of guilt was reasonable.

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