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What are the penalties for street racing?

If you participate in a street race on Canadian roads you could find yourself charged with a crime and be faced with severe penalties.

How is street racing defined under Canadian law?

Street racing is defined as engaging in dangerous driving behaviour involving high speeds to compete with another vehicle without consideration for the public. Definitions of street racing can include:

  • Trying to outdistance or outdistancing other vehicles;
  • Trying to prevent or preventing other vehicles from passing; or
  • Driving at excessive speed to try to arrive at or arriving at a destination ahead of one or more other vehicles.

What does the law say about street racing?

Street racing is illegal in Canada. The criminal code has specific sections which specifically talk about street racing being forbidden, and the prohibitions are set out under the dangerous operation of motor vehicles, vessels and aircraft heading in the code.

A person who street races may not only be charged with the dangerous operation of a motor vehicle but on top of that additional charges may include:

  • Causing death by criminal negligence (street racing);
  • Causing bodily harm by criminal negligence (street racing); and
  • Dangerous operation of motor vehicle while street racing.

The punishment for charges of street racing under the criminal code can be quite steep.

If convicted of a minor (summary) offence, then the person may get a fine and up to six months in prison, or both. If convicted of a serious (indictable) for up to five years. However, those sentences only apply for a conviction of street racing alone.

Where the racing has caused bodily harm, a person may look at a sentence of up to fourteen years and where racing has resulted in fatalities, the person could get a sentence of life imprisonment.

How does a court know if a person was street racing?

Sometimes it’s not obvious whether a street race actually took place. In those cases, the court looks at the behaviour of the drivers, which include:

  • The synchronized or in-tandem movements of two motor vehicles marked by high speed and close proximity over a material distance;
  • Abrupt lane changes, blocking, or bold manoeuvres in and out of traffic;
  • Unsafe lane changes;
  • Tailgating;
  • Jockeying for position;
  • Tagging and horseplay; and
  • High‑risk passing manoeuvres.

Confusion can exist because sometimes races are not pre-arranged but people will just start racing while on the road. There needs to be no previous agreement for a street race to occur. It’s immaterial whether someone organized the street race or just decided to participate in it.

If you have been charged with the dangerous operation of motor vehicle while street racing or more, you should consult a lawyer.

Read more:

Criminal Code of Canada Dangerous operation of motor vehicles, vessels and aircraft

Street racing defined