Penalties for Drivers in Fatal Pedestrian Accidents – Is Ontario Car-Biased?

A $500 fine for causing a fatal road accident. “A slap on the wrist” seems like the understatement of the year, doesn’t it?

The Toronto Star recently ran an excellent piece on the relatively small price that drivers who fatally injury pedestrians pay for their actions. David Rider’s article, Ontario drivers in deadly collisions often punished with small fine, describes the grief and anger that victims’ families feel when they discover what woefully small penalties the driver who killed their loved one will face.

Many feel that Ontario’s laws are “car biased”—a person who uses a gun to kill will almost certainly face serious consequences, but when the weapon is a car, the consequences are laughable.

Ontario has the laws to support more serious consequences, but often offending drivers plea bargain their way into lesser charges that are based on technical violations rather than on negligence or recklessness:

“Theoretically, drivers can face up to 10 years in jail under a criminal charge of dangerous driving causing injury, up to six months in jail and a fine of $2,000 for the provincial offence of careless driving, or they can face an $85 fine for a minor traffic offence such as an improper turn.”

Though the drivers who were interviewed in the story were clearly remorseful, that’s cold comfort to victims’ families. Some of those family members have become advocates for stricter penalties, saying reckless drivers should face fines of closer to $50,000, be compelled to attend court to hear victim impact statements, and be subject to significant driving bans. One bereaved spouse even started an advocacy group, Friends and Families for Safe Streets, which holds regular monthly peer support group meetings for those who have experienced or been bereaved by road violence.

With criminal consequences generally so lax for fatal pedestrian accidents, families need to know that civil action (against a distracted, impaired, or otherwise careless driver) can be a more effective tool to ensure accountability.