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Can police charge me for ‘rubbernecking’ at crash?

Published September 24, 2012
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Eric Lai answers readers’ auto questions every week for Wheels.

Q: I heard that police recently cracked down on “rubberneckers.” What exactly is the charge that would apply?

A: There isn’t a specific “rubbernecker” charge in the HTA, but other sections could apply. For example, “unnecessarily slow driving” under S. 132(1) HTA might apply, provided the violator’s way ahead is clear and they’re not just a victim of a slow-moving “rubbernecker” ahead of them.

If a driver snaps a picture of the crash, whether or not they slow down, they could be charged with using a handheld electronic device while driving under S. 78.1 HTA.

If they are “all over the road” and/or get into a crash themselves while their attention is diverted, a careless driving charge might apply.

Violations above would apply to a “rubbernecker” whose way is clear (often on the other side of a median) but still slows down unnecessarily to take a good look. Traffic caught behind a collision scene would likely need to slow down for safety reasons as they drive around the mess, so they couldn’t be faulted for this, although the other charges listed could still apply.

Q: Theoretically, if police stop me without a valid reason can I “give them a piece of my mind” and drive off, just like on TV shows?

A: In the real world, drivers would be wise to keep their attitude in check, even if the reason for any police stop isn’t immediately apparent. Frankly, police can lawfully stop motorists just to check your insurance or sobriety – even if your driving hasn’t been suspect.

Once the stop is made, there’s a whole host of possible charges that an officer could ticket you for, if so inclined. For example, no insurance, suspended licence, expired tags, improper lights (e.g. headlight out at night), seatbelt violations, unsafe vehicle, insecure load, noisy muffler, tint too dark on front windows, dirty plate, fail to sign permit in ink etc.

All charges are at police discretion and subject to interpretation by the courts.

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