Area of Law: Highway Traffic Law
Answer # 524
Failure to report and remain at the scene of an automobile accidentRegion: Ontario Answer # 524
Failure to remain or return to the scene of an accident
It is an offence under both the federal Criminal Code and the Ontario Highway Traffic Act to leave the scene of an accident in which you were directly or indirectly involved. In addition, the law also requires that, if you do leave the scene of the accident that you immediately return.
If you are involved in a motor vehicle accident, you are legally obligated to give your name, address, phone number and insurance information to people involved in the accident. Depending on the situation, you could be charged under either the Highway Traffic Act or the Criminal Code.
1. Criminal Code – “Failure to stop after accident”
The charge of fail to stop after an accident under section 320.16 (1) of the Criminal Code requires the Crown prosecutor to prove that:
- the accused knew that, or was reckless as to whether the vehicle had been involved in an accident, and, without reasonable excuse, failed to:
- stop his or her vehicle,
- give his or her name and address, and
- offer assistance where a person appears to be injured.
The accused will be found guilty if the Crown can show that the accused failed to perform any of these three duties.
Of course, the Crown must also prove that the accused was the person operating the motor vehicle that was involved in the accident. Normally, the registered owner of the vehicle will be investigated by the police as the likely suspect. If the registered owner denies being the driver at the relevant time, the police will usually ask whether anyone else had borrowed or used the vehicle during the relevant time.
It is important that anyone suspected of being involved in a hit-and-run seek legal advice before talking to the police. The seriousness of the accident may be a factor the police take into consideration in deciding whether the accused will be charged under the Criminal Code versus the provincial Act. Many times, an experienced criminal lawyer will be able to assist an accused in this regard by protecting the accused’s rights and advocating on his or her behalf with the investigating officer.
Under s. 320.19 (5) of the Criminal Code
Failing to stop after an accident is a hybrid offence. If convicted:
- Summarily: (less serious) the maximum punishment is imprisonment for up-to two years less a day.
- By indictment: the maximum punishment is imprisonment up-to ten years.
Licence suspension: In addition to any other punishment, the Court may order a licence suspension.
Also, you will have a criminal record.
2. Highway Traffic Act – “Fail to remain or stop“
Under the Highway Traffic Act, when an accident occurs, every person in charge of a vehicle that is directly or indirectly involved in the accident must:
- remain at or immediately return to the scene of the accident
- offer and render all possible assistance; and
- upon request provide pertinent information to anyone sustaining loss or injury or to any police officer or to any witness such as:
- his or her name, address, driver’s licence number, vehicle liability insurance company name and policy number, name and address of the registered owner of the vehicle and the vehicle permit/registration number.
Penalties under the Highway Traffic Act include:
- a fine of between $400 and $2,000, or a maximum of six months in jail, or both; and
- demerit points; and
- a possible licence suspension, of up-to two years.
Failure to report an accident
The law also requires that you report accidents that involve injuries, or property damage in excess of $2,000. You should be careful about estimating what the dollar amount of property damage is, because people tend to underestimate the extent of the damage. The penalty for failing to report an accident is a fine and demerit points.
One defence to the offence of failing to report an accident is if the people involved did not think the damage was over $2,000. There must be no personal injuries resulting from the accident to use this defence. If the total amount of property damage is close to $2,000, this argument might be successful.
Failing to stop and remain at the scene of an accident is a serious criminal offence. If you have been charged with this, or any criminal offence, you should consult a lawyer.
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