Can You Go to Jail if You Hit a Pedestrian with Your Car in Alberta
Alberta has a major issue with pedestrian accidents. Here in Alberta, a pedestrian gets into an accident with a motor vehicle almost every day.
In over half these crashes the driver is considered to be at-fault for the accident. Common causes include failing to yield the right-of-way, making an improper turn, backing out of a driveway in an unsafe way, or running off the road.
Yet in most of these cases, drivers do not go to jail. That doesn’t mean it’s outside the realm of possibility, it just means that it’s not as common as many drivers imagine. It happens, but only in specific cases. Usually these cases involve another crime that the driver is committing behind the wheel, rather than the accident itself. The accident simply becomes an exacerbating factor in a case that could have sent a driver to jail independent of the accident.
Here’s what you need to know.
You can go to jail if you panic, hit, and run.
Many people get themselves in trouble because they are so afraid of facing charges for hitting a pedestrian that they make a fatal mistake seconds after doing so. They flee the scene. A significant portion of pedestrian accidents in Calgary are also hit-and-run accidents. People panic, and they let that panic override their better instincts.
If you hit a pedestrian you have to face whatever comes next or you’re only going to make it worse. In addition, you have a duty to ensure the pedestrian gets help and medical attention.
In Alberta, a hit and run can result in a fine of up to $2000, 7 demerit points on your license, suspension of your driver’s license, and up to 10 years in prison. These penalties can all be compounded if you injured or killed a pedestrian.
Rest assured you are very likely to be caught. Here in Calgary there are plenty of traffic light cameras. The pedestrian, the pedestrian’s family, and their lawyer will have every incentive to try to track you down, because the Motor Vehicle Accident Claims Program (MVAC) won’t pay out unless they can show they made a reasonable effort to try to locate you.
Police investigate these cases thoroughly because they are criminal acts in their own right. They put out bulletins asking the public for assistance in locating drivers who have committed this crime. It is very rare for a hit-and-run driver to get away with this crime.
You can go to jail if you were driving recklessly.
In Alberta, “Careless Driving” is a charge that applies to those who were not driving with the “care and attention given to others using the road that a reasonable driver would have given in the circumstances.”
There is no specific speed that will get you convicted of this, or any specific activities. Much is up to the discretion of the police officer.
On its own this offense can result in 6 months of jail, 6 demerit points, and a license suspension, as well as fines.
You may also be charged with dangerous driving, which means you operated your vehicle in a manner that was clearly dangerous to the public and resulted in bodily harm or death. It’s important to be aware that a pedestrian injury or death is not enough to convict you of dangerous driving. The Crown must prove that you were operating the vehicle in a dangerous way.
You can go to jail if you were committing a crime at the time of the accident.
Driving drunk? Texting while driving?
These are crimes in their own right in Alberta. In fact the distracted driving law covers more than just texting. It also covers personal grooming, programming a GPS, adjusting your radio, or being distracted by a pet. You could have been pulled over for these behaviors at any time.
If they result in the death or injury of a pedestrian then, yes, you can be arrested.
Keep in mind that you can be arrested for driving under the influence of medication as well. The standard is whether or not you were impaired while you were driving, rather than whether the substance was legal or needful. If you can’t pay attention to the road or drive safely then Alberta doesn’t want you behind the wheel of a car. If you know a medication will impair it, take it only when you know you will not have to drive.
You can go to jail if your car wasn’t insured.
Driving without insurance is already illegal in Alberta. The minimum fine is $2,875 and the maximum fine is $10,000. If you can’t pay the fine you can spend up to 6 months in jail. That’s for the first offense. A second offense can lead to up to 5 years in jail and a maximum fine of $20,000.
Getting caught driving without insurance is even more serious when you’ve hit a pedestrian. They’ll have to recover from MVAC. MVAC will turn around and pursue you for that debt.
In short, driving without insurance saddles you with two problems: massive debt and jail time.
Most pedestrian accidents result in personal injury cases.
You might have caught a common theme in all the above-referenced cases.
You can go to jail for hitting a pedestrian in Alberta if you were committing another offense when the accident happened.
Most of the time accidents are caused by a mistake on the road. You may be “negligent” but you’re not “criminally negligent,” and the law recognizes that fact.
If you’re properly insured and weren’t breaking the law then from a practical standpoint you don’t have much to worry about. Your insurance company will end up paying for the pedestrian’s injuries and expenses. They’ll even provide the lawyers to defend the claim. Your insurance rates will go up, but you’re not going to lose your freedom.
Sometimes the pedestrian is even found responsible for the accident, or partially responsible. Accidents sometimes occur when a pedestrian crosses against the light, or when a pedestrian darts into traffic wearing dark clothing at night. In some cases the pedestrian will be assigned a percentage of fault for their own negligent actions. However, the onus will be on the driver to prove that they were not responsible for this accident.
What to do if you hit a pedestrian?
Clear the road if you can do so safely. Then call 911. You need to get medical attention for the pedestrian, and you need the police to arrive at the scene to investigate the accident and take the report. Your first concern should be making sure that the pedestrian gets the medical care they require to live through the experience.
You should do this even if you fear you were breaking the law: fleeing can only make things worse.
Take witness names and numbers and take as many pictures as you possibly can. This evidence can only help your case later.
Finally, be careful what you say. Even simple apologies can be used against you later. Just stick to the facts and do what you’re supposed to do to the best of your ability.