Dangerous 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 criminal offence of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle. This criminal offence is different than an offence under the Traffic Safety Act.

For you to be convicted of dangerous driving, the Crown Prosecutor must prove all of the elements of the offence beyond a reasonable doubt. The Crown must first prove that you were driving or operating a motor vehicle, a seagoing vessel, an aircraft or railway equipment at the time of the offence. The Crown must then show that you operated your vehicle or vessel in a manner that was, or could be reasonably expected to be, dangerous to the public. While most dangerous driving cases consist of a driver dangerously operating their vehicle in the vicinity of people, there do not have to be other people around for you to be charged with dangerous driving.  A public place is generally any place to which the public ordinarily has access.  It includes, but is not limited to, public highways and roads, parking lots around privately owned shopping malls, a driveway that members of the public have access to or a school ground accessed by teachers and students.

The Crown must also prove that you drove in a manner which was different than that expected of a prudent driver.  For example, if you are speeding through a school zone, the court will decide whether the lives or safety of the public was or could have been placed in danger as a result of your driving. The court will also consider whether, objectively viewed, the accused exercised the same care in terms of operating their vehicle that a reasonable person would exercise in those same circumstances. In situations where an external circumstance (such as a sudden bout of sickness, or a bee flying into your car) affected your driving, the court will consider whether a reasonable person suffering from that same issue would have acted in a similar way.

In cases of dangerous driving causing bodily harm or death, the Crown must demonstrate that injury or death resulted from the dangerous driving itself. The Crown only has to prove that the dangerous driving was a significant contributing cause to the injury or death of the victim. The Crown does not need to prove that you intended to drive dangerously.

The punishment for dangerous driving will depend on how the Crown proceeds and the seriousness of the offence.

For a dangerous driving conviction the possible range of punishments are:

  • Summary offence: Maximum of two years less a day imprisonment;
  • Indictment: Maximum of 10 years imprisonment.

For a dangerous driving conviction that involves bodily harm, the possible penalty ranges are higher:

  • Summary offence: Maximum of two years less a day imprisonment;
  • Indictment: Maximum of 14 years imprisonment.
  • First offence: Minimum penalty of $1,000 fine;
  • Second offence: Minimum penalty of 30-day imprisonment; and
  • Each subsequent offence: Minimum penalty of 120-day imprisonment.

For a dangerous driving conviction that causes death, it will be an indictable offence, with a maximum punishment of life imprisonment, and:

  • First offence: Minimum penalty of $1,000 fine;
  • Second offence: Minimum penalty of 30-day imprisonment; and
  • Each subsequent offence: Minimum penalty of 120-day imprisonment.

If you are charged with the offence of dangerous driving, you should consult with a lawyer.

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