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Inattentive drivers criminally charged

Inattention is criminal.

Or is it? You be the judge.

R. v. Dunford, 2015 SKQB 386

Keith Dunford, and inattentive driver, was driving through a highway construction zone with signs cautioning to be prepared to stop, prohibiting passing and requiring a speed reduction to 60 kms/hour when passing highway workers.

Quoting from the case:

“Mr. Dunford, however, was not fully aware of his surroundings as he had not observed any of the signs located along the 13.1 kilometers of highway. His focus was, admittedly, elsewhere.”

His vehicle struck and killed Ashley Richards while she stood at her flagging station, which was located on a straight and flat area in Saskatchewan.

Just prior to the collision, wind through an open window caught documents on Mr. Dunford’s front seat and displaced them. He returned the documents to their folder and realized too late that he was fast approaching Ms. Richards.

Mr. Dunford was found guilty of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death, contrary to section 249 of the Criminal Code. He was sentenced to two years less one day in prison and prohibited from driving for three years following his release.

R. v. Mbachu, 2016 ABCA 402

Highway 567, north of Calgary, intersects with Highway 772.

In the 525 metres leading up to that intersection, travelers on highway 567 face signs saying “Important Intersection Ahead,” then “Stop Ahead,” five sets of “rumble strips,” and finally two stop signs with red flashing lights.

Mr. Mbachu drove past all those warnings. He crashed into a vehicle on Highway 772, killing the driver.

Mr. Mbachu could not remember the moments before impact and believed he might have fallen asleep.

He was found guilty of dangerous driving causing death and sentenced to two years less one day in prison.

Normand Lavoie

Normand Lavoie, another inattentive driver, was sentenced on September 11, 2017, to three years in prison after pleading guilty to dangerous driving causing death. I learned of the circumstances of the case through this news report: 3 Teens in Construction Zone

Truck driver Normand Lavoie…

“…told police that he didn’t fall asleep at the wheel, but that he was in “la la land, basically – I’m there behind the wheel but I’m not.”

He told police…

“…that he didn’t recall entering the construction zone or seeing six construction zone signs, including an electronic billboard, advising him that workers were present and to slow down.”

Mr. Lavoie had, himself, been the victim of inattentive driving. When he was a teenager, a professional truck driver fell asleep at the wheel killing his mother and grandmother and seriously injuring his brother.

His own inattention resulted in tragedy when his transport truck rear-ended, at 84 kms/hour, a small car that had been stopped by a flagperson. The crash killed the three teenage occupants and resulted in serious injuries to a flagperson.

Police Officer Killed September 12, 2017

According to this recent news report, an RCMP officer in Nova Scotia had stopped to help change a tire when a van rear-ended the police car and other vehicle, killing the 35 year old officer.

The offending driver was obviously, like Mr. Dunford, “in la la land,” zoned out. How else could he have failed to mentally process the clearly apparent, stopped vehicles?

Will there be a criminal charge, or was the period of inattention not long enough to reach a level of criminal culpability? I don’t know.

What level of inattention should be prosecuted as a criminal offence?

Should it be a criminal offence to be driving with such a low level of attention that you can absent-mindedly blow through a stop sign or red light?

Or only if the offender failed to notice a long lead up of warning signs and rumble bumps?

What about having so little care and attention that an offender crashes into the back of stopped traffic?

Or only if it’s in a construction zone with warning signs that traffic might have to stop?

Don’t we know, getting behind the wheel of a vehicle, that traffic sometimes stops? And that some intersections have stop signs?

Should it make a difference to the inattentive driver if someone is killed in the crash?

What if there are “only” permanent, life altering injuries?

In these cases, the drivers were not texting, talking on cell phones, eating, doing their make-up, or impaired by alcohol. They had simply “zoned out.”

Is it, perhaps, even more criminally culpable if you make the conscious choice to distract yourself from the road ahead of you by chatting away (hands free or not) on a cell phone?

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1 Comment

  • We all are responsible to be able to control the vehicle we drive, there’s no one else. All drivers are responsible to be cautious for any change or potential danger all the time & must reduce speed or stop if necessary to avoid accident.

    If you hurt or killed someone from the reason above, you should get some legal penalty. Otherwise people won’t be careful enough.

    If we want to drive a vehicle, we must promise not to hurt anyone for any reason even including bad weather. You should be able to reduce the speed or you shouldn’t have a driver’s license.

    Our daughter Melissa was killed in car accident in Merritt, B.C. in April. She was in center ditch after slipping & waiting for RCMP to rescue her. But one of the following car lost control while overtaking a trailor in downhil right curve during sudden snow & hit Melissa’s car when she was trying to evacuate from her car. Back of her head was hit & she died instantly.

    If this driver didn’t decide to overtake in this kind of location in this kind of weather condition, she could have attended her graduation at UBCO on June 8th.

    The rule needs to be more strict to send stronger message to all the drivers to be more responsible.