Don't go to la la land

Inattention is criminal.

Or is it? You be the judge.

R. v. Dunford, 2015 SKQB 386

Keith Dunford was driving through a highway construction zone with signs cautioning to be prepared to stop, prohibiting passing and requiring a speed reduction to 60 km/h 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 kilometres 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, travellers 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 was sentenced on Sept. 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 km/h, a small car that had been stopped by a flag person. The crash killed the three teenage occupants and resulted in serious injuries to a flag person.

Police Officer Killed Sept. 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 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 cellphone?


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About the Author

Paul Hergott began practicing law in 1995, in a general litigation practice. Of the various areas of litigation, he became most drawn to, and passionate about, pursuing fair compensation for injured victims. This gradually became his exclusive area of practice.

In 2007, Paul opened Hergott Law, a boutique personal injury law firm in the Central Interior, serving personal injury clients from all over British Columbia. Paul’s practice is restricted to acting only for the injured victim, never for ICBC or for other insurance companies.

Paul became a weekly newspaper columnist in January of 2007, when his first column entitled “It’s not about screwing the Insurance Company” was published. 

Please feel free to email or call Paul (1.855.437.4688) with legal issues you might like him to write about in his column, or to offer your feedback about something he has written.

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