The topics in the Dial-A-Law series provide general information on legal issues within the Province of Alberta. The purpose of this topic is to inform you of your legal rights and responsibilities. This is not legal advice. If you require legal advice, you should contact a lawyer.
This topic discusses the traffic offence of careless driving, which is the most serious driving offence under the Alberta Highway Traffic Act – section 115.
For you to be found guilty of careless driving, the Crown prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you did not use the care and attention or give to other persons using the road the consideration that a reasonable driver would have given in the circumstances. The court will consider all the evidence about your driving including the speed, the traffic, the road conditions, your positioning on the road, the reactions of other drivers and whether your driving caused an accident.
Careless driving is a “strict liability offence” and the standard of proof for careless driving under the Highway Traffic Act is easier for the Crown to prove. Strict liability means there is no element of criminal intent. The Crown prosecutor must only prove you did the act that is dangerous to the public. In your defence, you must prove that your driving did not amount to careless driving in the circumstances or that you were acting with due diligence at the time. For example, if you were trying to light a cigarette and you swerved onto the wrong side of the road, the Court would have to decide whether a reasonable driver would swerve out of his lane of traffic to light a cigarette. If the Court decides that a reasonable driver would not have swerved, then you may be convicted of careless driving.
The penalty for careless driving includes 6 demerit points off your driver’s license, a fine of no less than $402 and not more than $2000, a possible driving suspension and a possible jail sentence up to six months – section 158 of the Highway Traffic Act. Driver’s license suspensions are governed by the Motor Vehicle Administration Act of Alberta. Careless driving can also result in a jail sentence where there are extreme circumstances because of a lack of care, attention or consideration in driving.
Once your license is suspended, you must not operate a motor vehicle until you have your license reinstated. Driving while your license is suspended or failing to reinstate your license before you resume driving is an offence that can be punishable upon indictment to a maximum term of imprisonment of 2 years. Contact your local Registry Office to find out how to reinstate your licence and the cost. Be sure that you have fulfilled all conditions imposed on reinstating your licence. For example, conditions may have been for drug counselling, driver training or a physical examination.
Dial-A-Law is a Calgary Legal Guidance public service project funded in part by the Alberta Law Foundation.