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When Mayor Rob Ford was captured on camera reading while driving down the highway, most motorists considered that extremely dangerous and selfish. For the same reason that we recognize the merit of not driving while fiddling with your cell phone, we would never want to be a fellow user of the road (or sidewalk!) with a driver who is deep in the text of document while he motors along.
But, when asked to comment on the legality of driving while reading, a spokesperson for the Toronto Police Service advised that it is not a chargeable offence. Perhaps if you are the mayor it isn’t. But if you are one of my clients, maybe driving around Scarborough at 1:30 on Friday night, it sure would be. The offence is found in s. 130 of the Highway Traffic Act. It’s called careless driving.
S. 130 of the act sets out:
“Every person is guilty of the offence of driving carelessly who drives … without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the highway …”
Cases decided under this section have found carelessness when drivers were “momentarily distracted” while on the highway and failed to notice traffic had stopped ahead. (R. v. Roberston, 43 M.V.R. (5th) 257).
A police officer was convicted of careless driving when he killed a prisoner in the back of the cruiser by going off the road. The careless act? Either by performing a “shoulder check” on his blind spot, or falling asleep after a 19 hour shift. (R. v. Monkman) 16 M.V.R. (5th) 75
How about this one: repeatedly squealing tires while performing burnouts (a favourite muscle-car trick by macho drivers with hot cars everywhere). No accident, just the squealing tire trick is itself careless driving.
If these acts constitute the act of careless driving, surely reading something propped on your steering wheel as His Worship is clearly pictured doing is certainly “chargeable” under the Highway Traffic Act.
And by the way … in my humble legal opinion, being “very busy” is a lousy defence.