Ontario plans a much harsher approach to careless drivers who kill or hurt people, provincial transport minister Steven Del Duca is set to announce Wednesday in Toronto.
The announcement follows a series Global News published in June about lenient sentences being given to drivers who kill.
The proposed changes would create a new offence of careless driving causing death or bodily harm which carries with it a maximum penalty of a $50,000 fine, up to two years in jail and a licence suspension of up to five years.
WATCH: A big step forward in Ontario to get tough on careless and distracted drivers. The province plans to bring in strict penalties for drivers who hurt or kill others. As Allison Vuchnich reports, the proposed penalties could become the harshest in the country.
The existing offence of careless driving carries a maximum fine of $2,000, six months in jail and a license suspension of up to two years. However, jail sentences are nearly unheard-of in practice; last year, over 6,000 people were convicted of careless driving in Ontario, and only 16 were sentenced to any time in jail.
The amendments are a change to the philosophy of Ontario traffic law. In common with other Canadian provinces, Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act treats offences – running a red light, for example – much the same whether someone was hurt or killed, or not.
In practice, that can lead to very light sentences for at-fault drivers who kill.
In June, Global News covered the case of a Toronto driver who killed a 76-year-old grandmother by making an unsafe turn. She got a $500 fine, and didn’t show up for a court appearance at which the victim’s family read a long, emotional victim impact statement – legally, she didn’t have to.
The planned amendments address some, but not all, of the changes demanded by activists for ‘vulnerable road users,’ which largely means cyclists and pedestrians.
The proposed $2,000 minimum fine for careless driving causing death or bodily harm would mean that a driver would have to either be represented at the court hearing or appear in person. However, it would still be legally possible for an accused driver to send a lawyer and not show up.
As well, the proposed law lacks some features vulnerable road user activists had been advocating. The analogous law in Oregon, for example, mandates community service and retraining for at-fault drivers who hurt or kill people.
The proposed law will also:
- Increase fines and demerit points, and introduce license suspensions, for distracted drivers. Punishments would increase with repeated offences, with third (and subsequent) offences drawing a 30-day licence suspension.
- Increase fines for failing to yield to a pedestrian
- Double the maximum fine for most traffic offences from $500 to $1,000