Understanding serious driving offences as a newcomer to Canada

Julia Hornstein
Published: November 22, 2023

Upon settling in Canada, many newcomers will get a driver’s license in the province or territory they are living in.

Depending on the province or territory, you may need to complete a written exam on road rules and one or two driving tests. With this license, you can legally drive anywhere in Canada.

Once you have a Canadian driver’s license, you must follow Canada’s driving laws. Before you start driving, you should take the time to learn the laws specific to your province or territory.

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It is important to understand serious driving offences in Canada, as these can lead to demerit points, higher car insurance, license suspension, fines and even jail time.

What is the demerit point system?

Demerit points are added to your driver’s license if you are convicted of breaking certain driving laws. The rules are usually dependent on if you are a new driver or have a full license.

You start with zero points and will gain points for being convicted of breaking certain traffic laws. These points stay on your record for two years from the date of the offence. If you collect enough points, you can lose your driver’s license.

Keep in mind you can lose demerit points on your record even when you violate driving laws in other Canadian provinces and territories, not just in the province or territory that issued your license.

Driving offences with high demerit points

Demerit point violations will vary by province and territory, but the number of points added to your driving record always depends on the offence.

To illustrate how the system works and the different types of demerit point offences, Ontario will serve as an example, since Ontario is the primary province of residence for new immigrants to Canada.

In Ontario, you can be given between two to seven demerit points for one offence.

Seven demerit points will be added if you are convicted of:

  • Failing to remain at the scene of a collision
  • Failing to stop when signaled or asked by a police officer

Six demerit points will be added if you are convicted of:

  • Careless driving
  • Racing
  • Exceeding the speed limit by 40 km/h or more on roads with a speed limit of less than 80 km/h
  • Exceeding the speed limit by 50 km/h or more
  • Failing to stop for a school bus

Five demerit points will be added if you are convicted of:

  • Failing to stop at an unprotected railway crossing (for bus drivers only)

Four demerit points will be added if you are convicted of:

  • Exceeding the speed limit by 30 to 49 km/h
  • Following another vehicle too closely
  • Failing to stop at a pedestrian crossover

Either two or three demerit points may be added for many offences that would be too long to list.

However, some examples of three demerit point offences include driving while holding or using a cell phone, failing to obey the directions of a police officer and improper passing.

Two demerit points offences include failing to signal, a driver failing to wear a seat belt or unnecessary slow driving.

As a driver with a full license, if you have more than 15 demerit points, your license will be suspended for 30 days. As a new driver, if you have more than nine demerit points, your license will be suspended for 60 days.

Other possible consequences for violating traffic laws in Canada

The nature of the punishment that would follow a given driving offence depends on various factors, including whether you have been convicted of the same type of offence in the past and the situation surrounding the offence.

Numerous small tickets for driving offences over time can increase your insurance rates.

Note: Each insurance company will have their own formula for calculating how much your insurance rates will increase.

Common driving offences that raise your insurance rates include:

  • Failure to stop at a red light
  • Reckless driving
  • Speeding

Your license may be suspended for numerous violations, ranging from minor to major offences. If you are a repeat offender and have multiple tickets for minor violations, you may be at risk of having your license suspended.

Other common reasons your driving license may get suspended include unpaid fines, driving without insurance, or careless driving.

In the major violation category, driving under the influence (DUI) is a serious offence. Depending on the situation, it can result in other penalties such as a lifetime license suspension or imprisonment for up to 10 years.

Finally, some serious driving offences can put you in prison for an indefinite time. As an example, you can receive jail sentences of varying lengths for the following driving offences:

  • Causing injury or death to someone while under the influence of drugs or alcohol or due to dangerous or distracted/careless driving
  • Leaving the scene of an accident without waiting for the authorities to arrive
  • Refusing to provide a sample of blood, urine, or breath when required to do so by the police
  • Driving whilst disqualified or with a suspended license

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