Motorists who hurt or kill through careless driving could face fines of up to $50,000 and two years in jail under new legislation proposed by the Ontario government.

The planned amendment to the Highway Traffic Act (HTA) is specifically aimed to protect pedestrians and cyclists, according to Minister of Transportation Steven Del Duca. The new offence would carry the strictest prison term of any law under the HTA.

Under the existing laws, careless drivers can be charged with a $2,000 fine and six months in jail.

"We owe it to our most vulnerable to be our most vigilant," Del Duca said at a news conference announcing the plan on Wednesday.

The proposal includes stronger penalties for a range of driving-related offences.

Among the changes:

  • Careless drivers who cause bodily harm or death will face a maximum of $50,000 in fines, two years in jail, a five year license suspension and six demerit points.
  • Distracted drivers will face a license suspension of three days (a first in Canada), a maximum $1,000 fine and escalating penalties for further offences.
  • Drivers who fail to yield to pedestrians will face a maximum $1,000 fine and four demerit points.
  • Commercial drivers will be subject to a zero tolerance drug and alcohol policy, with a license suspension of three days for violations.

The legislation will also include increased fines for impaired driving and tougher penalties for novice drivers who violate the existing zero tolerance policy.

Del Duca said the plan will reach the legislature for approval sometime in the fall.

Steven Del Duca

Minister of Transportation Steven Del Duca said Ontario roads have consistently ranked among the safest in North America. (CBC)

Advocates called for stiffer penalties

Road safety advocates and the families of people killed in traffic collisions had been calling on new laws and tougher penalties for years.

When Gary Sim was killed cycling in Toronto this summer, his daughter, Heather Sim, said she was stunned to hear the driver who struck him would be charged with a $500 fine and two demerit points.

"I kind of thought this can't be right, there's got to be more than this," Sim said on CBC Radio's Metro Morning before the plan was formally announced.

Gary Sim

Avid cyclist Gary Sim was killed after being struck by a van in July 2017. His daughter says the responsible driver was fined $500. (Submitted)

"It's definitely a step in the right direction and just fabulous news for us," she said.

However, Del Duca admits there's no guarantee that drivers like the one who struck Sim's father will actually face those tougher penalties. In Sim's case, the driver was only charged with making an illegal turn.

"Ultimately the decision about how to proceed through the court system or the justice system will be up to law enforcement and the rest of the participants in the justice system," Del Duca explained.

The goal, he said, is to give law enforcement an opportunity to pursue careless driving charges when appropriate.

"This is not something they had at their disposal previously," Del Duca said.

While Sim said the plan would help deter drivers from dangerous behaviour, she's still calling on the province to introduce a vulnerable road users act to further solidify protections for pedestrians and cyclists.