Motor Vehicle Accidents: The Law

This article does not include civil responsibilities in the event of a motor vehicle accident, such as may, and quite likely do, exist pursuant to your car insurance policy. Further, in some cases, the obligations of a motorist may be less if the accident is with an empty, parked vehicle - in any event, this article does not cover that situation. References may be made to specific rules of law but in all event, verify your own provincial traffic safety statute to make sure of the law in your jurisdiction.

When a motor vehicle collision or accident occurs, the last thing on most people's minds is the law. Injuries, pain, shock and emotional trauma usually overwhelm the brain.

Well, the legislator doesn't care. He - or she - has a neat, little list of things you have to do if there's a motor vehicle accident; not can do, but have to do.

Motor vehicles can be killer machines, especially in the hands of distracted or not-fully-equipped drivers. Not everybody would react with good, common sense in the event of a car accident so the law, quite reasonably, has stepped in.

In the Canadian province of British Columbia, for example, here's what the provincial law requires in the event of a motor vehicle accident (§68 of the Motor Vehicle Act):

"The driver or operator or any other person in charge of a vehicle that is, directly or indirectly, involved in an accident on a highway must ... remain at or immediately return to the scene of the accident; render all reasonable assistance; produce in writing to any other driver involved in the accident and to anyone sustaining loss or injury, and, on request, to a witness his or her name and address, the name and address of the registered owner of the vehicle, the licence number of the vehicle, and particulars of the motor vehicle liability insurance card or financial responsibility card for that vehicle."

See, also, Hit and Run or Failure to Stop at Scene of an Accident.

This is almost identical to the obligation in Alberta as set out at §69(1) of the Alberta Traffic Safety Act. In Ontario, §200 of the 2009 version of the Highway Traffic Act is similar except that there is also §199:

running a red light"Every person in charge of a motor vehicle or street car who is directly or indirectly involved in an accident shall, if the accident results in personal injuries or in damage to property apparently exceeding an amount prescribed by regulation, report the accident forthwith to the nearest police officer and furnish him or her with the information concerning the accident...."

This has got to be one of Canada's craziest laws. How in the heavens is John Doe going to assess an injury to determine if, for one, it is compensable. And assuming that he can come up with a ballpark in his traumatized mind, what, then, to make of the obligation to be aware of the "amount prescribed by regulation"?!

For the record, as of September 5, 2009, the amount was $1,000.

In R v Pearson, the driver had an accident involving only his vehicle. The driver wasn't hurt nor was anybody else, but proceeded to his workplace and finished his shift. At 9 PM, he reported the accident to the RCMP. He was charged with failure to report a motor vehicle accident as Saskatchewan law required he do, forthwith. Justice Newsome knew something: he acquitted the driver takinmg into account the fact that no one was hurt and the only damage was to his vehicle. In other words, someone involved in an accident must report it within a reasonable time having regard to all of the circumstances of the case.

In law, there always has to be a smart-ass somewhere and so, in R v Bakker, the accused told the court that, well, he left the scene of his overturned car, which had rolled into a ditch, and didn't check for any damages until the next day. That's why it took his 9 hours to report the accident.

Not bad.

But no dice. Parry Sound, Ontario judge Geiger upheld the conviction for failure to report saying that Bakker "was required to determine the apparent extent of the damage before he first left the accident scene."

In R v Cameron, a snowmobiler hit a tree, seriously damaging his snowmobile. The provincial Motorized Snow Vehicles Act had a mandatory reporting requirement with the deadline simply being forthwith.

Only the next day, when the snowmobile driver's head injuries were causing him dizziness and he had to be airlifted to receive emergency medical attention, was the local police informed of the accident.

Eventually, the driver was charged with failure to report a motor vehicle accident. The Ontario Court of Appeal quashed the conviction and sent the accused back for a new trial in part because no-one had properly considered the effect on him of the accident and how it may have clouded his judgment in regards to his legal responsibilities.

Failure to remain on the scene could result in a conviction under the provincial statute or, far worse, a prosecution under the Criminal Code for hit and run.

What is a Highway?

The obligation to remain on the scene and help out may refer to accidents which occur on a highway. But the government has expansively defined highway. Check your provincial traffic law and expect to find something similar to this, from the British Columbia statute:

"Highway includes ... every road, street, lane or right of way designed or intended for or used by the general public for the passage of vehicles, and every private place or passageway to which the public, for the purpose of the parking or servicing of vehicles, has access or is invited, but does not include an industrial road."

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Published: Sunday, September 06, 2009
Last updated: Friday, November 11, 2011
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