Written by Richard J. Aitken

Is there more to a stunt driving charge than just driving too fast?

Section 172 of the Highway Traffic Act in Ontario states that “No person shall drive a motor vehicle on a highway in a race or contest, while performing a stunt or on a bet or wager”.

The case we hear of so often is a person driving 50km or more over the speed limit.  However there are many more actions caught by this section.

Not holding races, contests or betting on your driving is fairly easy to understand.  I once bet a police officer that he could not make it out of the parking lot of the court house without committing a 6 point HTA offence and he took me up on it.  As soon as he put his vehicle in motion I pointed out that he was driving on a wager and I got my free lunch.  Any bet or wager or any race including nodding at someone at a stop light and having an informal race comes under this section.

However, the regulations to the HTA define a number of other circumstances you may not understand to also constitute a race or stunt.  For racing, these include:

  • chasing another motor vehicle;
  • attempting to outdistance another vehicle by driving at a marked departure from the speed limit; and/or
  • changing lanes to advance through traffic at a marked departure from the speed limit

*”marked departure from the lawful speed” means a rate of speed that may limit the ability of the driver of a motor vehicle to prudently adjust to changing circumstances on the highway.*

The only exceptions to the racing and wagering terms are if it is a rally or similar with prior authorization from the proper authorities, or a similar motoring event where all participants drive responsibly.

For a stunt, included actions are:

  • attempting to life the tire of your vehicle off the ground;
  • drifting or skidding around a corner;
  • doing “donuts”;
  • driving next to a car like you were passing but staying out in the other lane for too long;
  • having a passenger in the trunk;
  • driving from anywhere but the driver’s seat (even at a slow speed like when pushing);
  • driving in a manner to prevent someone from passing;
  • cutting a person off or slamming on the brakes while someone is tailgating you;
  • tailgating; and/or
  • making a left turn at a stop light; unless it is an advanced green, if there is someone stopped going the other way, regardless of how long they take to finally start moving.

The only exception to the stunt terms are for emergency or similar vehicles.

The legal concepts of “Race”, “Contest” and “Stunts” under the HTA are defined in its regulations, which include where two or more motor vehicles are driven at a speed that is at a marked departure from the lawful rate of speed and in a manner of engaging in a competition. It also includes chasing another vehicle, driving without due care and attention or consideration for other people using the highway. Another example is repeatedly changing lanes in close proximity to other vehicles so as to advance through the ordinary flow of traffic while driving at a rate of speed that is a marked departure from the lawful rate of speed.

“Stunt” is uniquely defined under the regulation. Apart from the common understanding of stunt, believe it or not, it also includes the following driving behaviors:

  1. driving a motor vehicle with a person in the trunk of the motor vehicle;
  2. driving a motor vehicle while the driver is not sitting in the driver’s seat;
  3. driving a motor vehicle at a rate of speed that is 50 kilometres per hour or more over the speed limit;
  4. driving a motor vehicle without due care and attention, without reasonable consideration for other persons using the highway or in a manner that may endanger any person by:
    1. driving a motor vehicle in a manner that indicates an intention to prevent another vehicle from passing,
    2. stopping or slowing down a motor vehicle in a manner that indicates the driver’s sole intention in stopping or slowing down is to interfere with the movement of another vehicle by cutting off its passage on the highway or to cause another vehicle to stop or slow down in circumstances where the other vehicle would not ordinarily do so,
    3. driving a motor vehicle in a manner that indicates an intention to drive, without justification, as close as possible to another vehicle, pedestrian or fixed object on or near the highway, or
    4. making a left turn where,
      1. the driver is stopped at an intersection controlled by a traffic control signal system in response to a circular red indication;
      2. at least one vehicle facing the opposite direction is similarly stopped in response to a circular red indication; and
      3. the driver executes the left turn immediately before or after the system shows only a circular green indication in both directions and in a manner that indicates an intention to complete or attempt to complete the left turn before the vehicle facing the opposite direction is able to proceed straight through the intersection in response to the circular green indication facing that vehicle.

The offences under this category are very serious as they carry roadside punishments, such as a seven day administrative suspension of your driver’s licence and a seven-day vehicle impoundment both to be imposed on site and neither can be appealed. For a detailed explanation of administrative suspensions, please refer to the section “Administrative Driver’s Licence Suspension (ADLS)”. For detailed explanation about vehicle impoundments, please refer to “Vehicle Impoundment”.

You will be charged and receive a ticket, more accurately, a summons which requires you to appear in court to deliver your defence or enter a guilty plea. It is then up to the court to impose further penalties.

If found guilty, you will also be fined between $2,000.00 and $10,000.00, imprisoned up to six months or subject to a combination of both. The following table is a detailed explanation of the penalties:

Conviction/ Offence
Penalties *
Demerit Points Administrative Suspension (Roadside) Discretional Suspension Administrative Impoundment (Roadside) Fine Imprisonment
Racing, Contesting or Performing Stunts 6 7 days First conviction: less than 2 years
A subsequent conviction: less than 10 years
7 days Between $2,000 and $10,000 Not more than 6 months
* On conviction, the penalty can be both fine and imprisonment.
* A subsequent conviction is based on convictions and not commission of the offence. The time limit is 10 year period.
* In construction zones or community safety zones, the minimum fines will be doubled.

Following a conviction of racing, contesting or performing stunts, 6 demerit points will be applied where there is no licence suspension imposed on conviction. For detailed information about how the demerit point system works, please refer to “Demerit Points”.

The conviction will be kept on your driving record for at least 10 years. Insurance premiums will be increased for several years and you might even be disqualified from your existing insurance coverage. For information about how traffic tickets impact your insurance, please refer to the section “Insurance Premiums”.

It is always recommended to fight the charge. Since it is a strict liability offence, a defence of due diligence is available. There is also a defence available on a case by case basis:

  1. You may choose to plead guilty to the less serious offence of “Speeding” should it be offered by the prosecutor. For detailed information about speeding, please refer to the section “Speeding”.
  2. You may choose to plead guilty to the less serious offence of careless driving should it be offered by the prosecutor. For detailed information about careless driving, please refer to the section “Careless Driving”
  3. You may plead not guilty and leave the responsibility to the prosecution to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that you were driving in a pre-arranged race or with observed repetition of conduct. Any reasonable doubt regarding the facts of the case can result in an acquittal.

For other possible general defence, please refer to the section “General Defence for Traffic Tickets”.