This article provides a brief summary of the law in relation to the offence of failing to stop or failing to remain at the scene of a traffic accident (section 320.16 of the Criminal Code). In most provinces, a provincial driving statute such as the Ontario Highway Traffic Act may also regulate the offence of failing to remain at the scene of an accident. This article does not consider the law with respect to those provincial traffic statutes. If you or someone you know has been criminally charged with failing to remain at the scene of an accident, contact a criminal lawyer. The lawyers at Daniel Brown Law can be reached for an immediate consultation at (416) 297-7200.
Frequently asked questions about failing to remain at the scene of an accident:
- How does the prosecutor prove I failed to stop at the scene of an accident?
- Is it a criminal offence to fail to remain at the scene of a single motor vehicle accident?
- What personal information must be shared with another party at the scene of an accident?
- Can the duty to remain at the scene of an accident be delegated to another person?
- What if a person leaves the scene briefly before returning?
- Must there be damage or injury before a person is required to stop a vehicle and render assistance?
- Must the driver stop in an accident with an unoccupied vehicle?
- What if the driver did not know an accident has occurred – is he still guilty if he didn’t stop?
- What are the penalties for failing to stop at the scene of an accident?
- Can I appeal a conviction or sentence for failing to stop:
To obtain a conviction for failing to stop at the scene of an accident, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:
- the accused operated a conveyance (which includes a motor vehicle);
- that the conveyance was involved in an accident with a person or another conveyance;
- That the operator of the conveyance knew or was reckless as to whether the conveyance had been involved in an accident
- the accused failed to do all of the following things following the accident without a good excuse:
- stop the vehicle;
- give his or her name and address; and
- where any person has been injured or appears to require assistance, offer assistance to that person.
There is no legal requirement imposed by the Criminal Code of Canada to remain at the scene of an accident involving only a single motor vehicle as long as there are no injuries to any passengers of that vehicle. The Criminal Code only requires a driver to remain at the scene of an accident if another person or conveyance was also involved in that accident.
A person involved in an accident involving a another person or vehicle must communicate his name and address in some meaningful and effective way to bring home to the other party that information, so that he or she may follow it up with the police or by pursing a civil claim, knowing that he or she has the right person. Once this is done, the person has discharged their duties at the scene.
Section 320.16 of the Criminal Code of Canada imposes a personal obligation on the person involved in the accident to remain at the scene for the purpose of providing assistance and their personal information as required by law. This duty cannot be delegated to others such as the passenger of the vehicle involved in the accident unless there is a very pressing reason to justify the failure to remain and offer assistance. For example, a person who requires immediate medical attention may be justified in leaving the scene of an accident without providing their information to others involved in the accident.
The Court will look at the reason why a person left the scene of an accident to determine whether they had a good justification for their actions. If the Court concludes that the person left to obtain assistance and not evade responsibility, they will be found not guilty of the offence.
The term “accident” within section 320.16 of the Criminal Code of Canada does not require any real physical damage before a person is obligated to stop and offer assistance. Rather, an accident will be deemed to have occurred when any form of contact is initiated between two vehicles or between the vehicle and another person and not only where damage or injury occurs.
Even in cases where there is no occupant in the other vehicle (such as a parked car), there is still an obligation for the driver to stop and make efforts to locate the driver or leave their personal information. A failure to stop and make such efforts could result in a conviction.
A driver only has an obligation to stop once he is aware an accident has occurred. It is a valid defence to the charge of failing to stop at the scene of accident to say that the driver was unaware he has struck another person or vehicle as long as the driver wasn’t reckless about whether an accident had occurred.
The penalties for failing to stop at the scene of an accident can rage from no time in jail to a maximum of life in jail and a minimum punishment of a 1000 dollar fine (which includes a criminal record) for a first offender if a person is injured or killed. The maximum punishment for all other cases is ten years in jail with no minimum punishment.
During the sentencing phase, the judge may also consider suspending an accused person’s driver’s license for a period of time in addition to jail or a monetary fine. In all cases, a judge will assess the specific facts of the allegation that is before them and the history of the person being sentenced.
The Ministry of Transportation in Ontario will automatically suspend a person’s driver’s license for a period of 12 months upon conviction for failing to remain at the scene of an accident regardless of any further sanctions the Court imposes as a penalty.
It is always possible to appeal a conviction or sentence for any charge including failing to stop at the scene of an accident. To read more about the criminal appeal process read: Appealing a criminal conviction or sentence. In some instances, it is also possible to suspend a driving prohibition in order to get back a drivers license pending the outcome of the appeal.
If you, or someone you know has been charged with failing to remain at the scene of an accident under section 320.16 of the Criminal Code of Canada, you should speak with a criminal lawyer to discuss the available defences to this charge. Daniel Brown can be reached at (416) 297-7200 for a consultation.