Dangerous Driving in Canada – Understanding the Law

Dangerous Driving in Canada

Understanding the Law, Offences, and Defenses

criminal defence, traffic tickets, theft under, dangerous driving, assault, mischief, careless driving, driving while suspended, stunting, racing, in oshawa, toronto, lindsay, peterborough
Criminal law and traffic ticket defence.

Dangerous driving, formally known as "dangerous operation," is a serious criminal offence in Canada. Governed under section 320.13(1) of the Criminal Code, this offence can lead to severe legal consequences. This in-depth analysis aims to elucidate the law, elements of the offence, potential defenses, allowable dispositions, and factors affecting sentencing.

The Law

Section 320.13(1) of the Criminal Code states:

"Everyone commits an offence who operates a conveyance in a manner that, having regard to all of the circumstances, is dangerous to the public."

This section defines the illegal act of operating a vehicle, vessel, aircraft, or railway equipment in a dangerous manner. The law aims to protect public safety by penalizing those who endanger others through reckless or hazardous operation of these conveyances.

Section 320.19(5) of the Criminal Code prescribes the punishment for dangerous operation, which can include imprisonment and other penalties. The severity of the punishment depends on whether the offence resulted in bodily harm or death.

Elements of the Offence

To secure a conviction for dangerous operation, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:

  1. The Accused Was Operating a Conveyance: This includes any motor vehicle, vessel, aircraft, or railway equipment.
  2. Dangerous Manner: The operation must be objectively dangerous to the public, considering all the circumstances. This includes factors like road conditions, traffic, and the behavior of other drivers.
  3. Mens Rea (Guilty Mind): The accused must have operated the conveyance with a marked departure from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the same situation.

Examples of dangerous driving behavior include excessive speeding, aggressive driving, impaired driving, and ignoring traffic signals.


Several defenses can be raised against a charge of dangerous operation:

  1. Lack of Intention: Arguing that the accused did not intend to drive dangerously or that their actions did not constitute a marked departure from the norm.
  2. Necessity: Demonstrating that the accused was compelled to drive in a certain manner due to an emergency or to avoid greater harm.
  3. Mistake of Fact: Claiming that the accused was not aware of a critical fact that rendered their driving dangerous, such as a mechanical failure in the vehicle.
  4. Impaired by External Factors: Arguing that external factors, such as weather conditions or the actions of other drivers, contributed to the dangerous driving.

Aggravating and Mitigating Factors

When determining an appropriate sentence for dangerous operation, courts consider various aggravating and mitigating factors as outlined in Section 320.22 of the Criminal Code.

Aggravating Factors:

  • The offence caused bodily harm or death.
  • The accused has a history of similar offences.
  • The accused was driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • The accused was operating the conveyance at an excessively high speed.
  • The presence of passengers, particularly vulnerable individuals such as children.

Mitigating Factors:

  • The accused has no prior criminal record.
  • The accused demonstrates genuine remorse.
  • The dangerous driving occurred under circumstances that were largely out of the accused's control.
  • The accused has taken steps to address the behavior, such as attending driving safety courses.
  • The accused's cooperation with law enforcement and the judicial process.

Allowable Dispositions

If convicted of dangerous operation, the accused may face various dispositions under section 320.19(5):

  1. Imprisonment: The term of imprisonment varies based on the severity of the offence. It ranges from up to 10 years if it caused bodily harm, to life imprisonment if it resulted in death.
  2. Fines: Monetary penalties may be imposed either alone or in addition to other punishments.
  3. Probation: The court may order probation, during which the offender must comply with specific conditions.
  4. Driving Prohibition: A convicted individual may face a driving prohibition, preventing them from operating any conveyance for a specified period.


Understanding the intricacies of dangerous driving laws in Canada is crucial for legal professionals, law enforcement, and the general public. The offence under section 320.13(1) and the associated penalties under section 320.19(5) highlight the seriousness with which the Canadian legal system treats dangerous operation. Defenses and allowable dispositions provide avenues for those accused to seek justice and mitigate consequences. For more detailed information, legal texts such as the Criminal Code are invaluable resources.

By comprehensively understanding these aspects, individuals can better navigate the complexities of dangerous driving charges and their repercussions within the Canadian legal framework.

Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.
Ronald Reagan, in an address to the annual meeting of the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce (30 March 1961)