Criminally Negligent Driving

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 will deal with the related criminal offences of criminally negligent driving and street racing.

For you to be found guilty of driving a motor vehicle in a criminally negligent manner, the Crown must prove that you drove with reckless disregard for the lives and safety of other users of a roadway or public place.  It must be established that you drove in a way that was less prudent than a reasonable or sound individual would drive in the same circumstances.  Each case will have its own set of facts.  Examples of criminally negligent behaviour include causing death or serious injury as a result of excessive speed and impaired driving. Criminal negligence is defined in the Criminal Code, section 219.

If you are charged with criminally negligent driving causing bodily harm or death, the Crown will also have to prove that your reckless behaviour directly caused bodily harm or death to another. It is not necessary to have a collision between your car and the victim for you to be convicted of criminal negligence. For example, if you were driving at a high rate of speed and you hit a car and that car hit and killed the victim, you may still be convicted of criminal negligence causing death. The Crown will not have to prove that you intended to cause the consequences of your negligence.

Most people found guilty of criminal negligence in the operation of a motor vehicle – whether they cause bodily harm or death – receive a jail sentence.  If you are criminally negligent when you operate a vehicle and cause bodily harm to an individual, the length of time of confinement/imprisonment will depend on the degree of injury to the victim.  Sentences of 18 months are not uncommon.  Generally speaking, jail sentences for criminal negligence causing death start at 3 years imprisonment and go up to a potential of life imprisonment – see sections 220 and 221 of the Criminal Code. For criminal negligence causing bodily harm, the maximum sentence ranges from 2 to 10 years.

Driver license suspensions are governed by the Motor Vehicle Administration Act of Alberta.  Once your license is suspended you may not operate a motor vehicle until your license is reinstated.  This remains true even if the period of the suspension has lapsed.  In order to reinstate your license you must attend an Alberta Private Registry Service Centre and pay a required fee.  Additional conditions may need to be imposed for your licence to be reinstated.  For example, some conditions may include drug counselling, driver training or physical examinations which must be completed before your license can be 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 10  years – section 320.19(5) of the Criminal Code.

If you are charged with criminally negligent driving, particularly if it is alleged you caused bodily harm or death, you should consult a lawyer without delay.

Dial-A-Law is a Calgary Legal Guidance public service project funded in part by the Alberta Law Foundation.