A cyclist who was going the wrong way on a one-way street when he struck a 56-year-old woman and fractured her skull will be fined $400, whether the woman lives or dies.
In a case that raises questions about the strength of the province's traffic laws, the 49-year-old man — whose name was not released — was charged with careless driving under the Highway Traffic Act. He faces no criminal charges or jail time.
The incident occurred Tuesday, before 11 a.m., in Chinatown at the intersection of Dundas and Huron Sts., just east of Spadina Ave. The woman, who was crossing Huron on the south side, fell back after she was struck by the cyclist, hitting her head on the road. She suffered severe head trauma and was rushed to hospital, where she remains.
Police say they lay charges based on the offence, not the outcome, and there was no criminal intent on the part of the cyclist.
“If [the woman] dies that’s going to be handled in civil courts,” said Toronto police Const. Hugh Smith.
But critics charge the province’s careless driving law should distinguish careless acts that cause serious injury or death from those that don’t.
“People that are driving carelessly need to realize that when they kill another human being that person is gone forever,” said Daryl Bowles, whose father was killed in a careless driving accident in 2008. “And it’s not fair the person that’s responsible gets a slap on the wrist.”
Careless driving carries a fine ranging from $400 to $2,000, licence restrictions and potentially up to six months of jail time. It is the highest charge under the Highway Traffic Act.
Motorists and cyclists are treated equally under the act, though a cyclist does not suffer any penalties against their licence, such as demerit points or a suspension.
Motorists who injure or kill someone can be charged under the Criminal Code if they are deemed to have been driving dangerously. The difference between dangerous driving, a criminal offence, and careless driving, a traffic offence, lies in intent.
To be charged with dangerous driving, police must prove a driver planned and intended to do something dangerous, such as race or dart in and out of traffic. Careless driving, defined as driving “without due care and attention,” refers to a lapse of judgment.
A cyclist could not be charged with dangerous driving because the offence only covers motorized vehicles. But if there was evidence of intent, Smith said a cyclist could still be charged with assault or another appropriate criminal offence.
Police say the cyclist in Tuesday’s incident travelled southbound on Huron through the intersection with Dundas — where Huron becomes a one-way street in the opposite direction — and struck the woman, who was crossing the road on the south side with two other people.
A motorist committing the same act may have been charged criminally with dangerous driving causing bodily harm, Smith said, because it would be a more obviously dangerous situation. But recent cases of careless driving deaths suggest drivers are, in general, treated similarly.
An 18-year-old Mississauga man, who killed Eduardo and Fernandina Pascoal with his car last year, pleaded guilty to careless driving earlier this month and was ordered to pay a $1,000 fine.
In May, a 39-year-old truck driver in Brampton pleaded guilty to failing to yield and was fined $500 for the death of Tina Kuipers, 65, who was killed as she tried to cross Queen St. in Brampton last year.
“There are a lot of variations of careless driving, and if you actually kill someone there should be a much steeper penalty,” said Bowles, who created an online petition pushing for tougher penalties at familiesfightingcarelessdriving.com.
Bowles’ petition — which has more than 2,000 signatures — calls for a new law specifically for careless driving causing death, which would include automatic jail sentences and a spectrum of stiffer penalties.
Although the cyclist in this case was given the minimum fine, the injured woman or her family may pursue a civil litigation, Smith said.
“He may escape the provincial court for this offence; it doesn’t mean there’s not going to be thousands of thousands of dollars later.”
Tickets given to cyclists
2008 – 3629
2009 – 4010
2010 – 6773
2011 – 2464 (as of May 31)
Source: Toronto police (tickets include equipment infractions)