Motorists have “a duty” to stay on the scene of an accident, a court in Alberta has ruled. The ruling was made as a court denied a motorists claim that breath samples should not have been used as evidence when appealing convictions of impaired and dangerous driving.
The Alberta Court of Appeal said motorists have “a duty, separate and apart from the criminal law, to remain at the scene of the accident,” and added that drivers must cooperate with police officers. Mr.; Justice O’Ferrall speaking for himself and Mr. Justice Peter Martin wrote that drivers should remain on the scene, but are not being “detained”.
“It (to remain at the scene) is simply a statutory duty which drivers owe to their fellow drivers,” Judge O’Ferrall added. “There is no need at this point for the police to inform the driver of his right to counsel. Nor is there any obligation on police to refrain from eliciting information about the accident. Indeed, the police have a duty to elicit such information, not for the purpose of a prosecution, but for the purpose of reporting on what transpired to the Registrar of Motor Vehicle Services. In the circumstances of an automobile accident, the timely obtaining of information from one or both of the drivers may also save a life or avert further injury or property damage.”
The incident stems from a collision involving Eric Rowson on Jan. 14, 2010. Mr. Rowson was driving his truck north on 24th St. SW in Spruce Meadows. He struck an eastbound car in which one of the passengers “suffered major head trauma and brain injury, a second sustained significant facial lacerations, and a third broke her femur.”
Rowson was found guilty of three counts of impaired driving and causing bodily harm. He was also found guilty of three counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm and one count of operating a motor vehicle while over the alcohol limit. After the incident, Rowson was placed in the back of a locked police vehicle.
That officer “was required to have informed Mr. Rowson of his right to counsel upon his detention and by not doing so violated” two of his Charter rights, Justice Martin ruled.
The trial judge “need not have found that the detention commenced then,” Justice O’Ferrall wrote. “At that point police were investigating a very serious accident. The police needed to assist those attending upon the injuries of the victims. They also needed to control the accident scene which was on a very busy highway. The appellant was wandering around the scene of the accident. For his own safety and comfort he needed to be in a vehicle. It was the middle of winter. His own vehicle was a wreck. In other words, there was a legitimate non-detention reason to have the appellant placed in a police vehicle.”
Section 69 of Alberta’s Traffic Safety Act stipulates that “the driver of a vehicle involved in an accident must, firstly, remain at the scene and, secondly, render all reasonable assistance,” Justice O’Ferrall wrote. “The driver must also produce in writing his or her name, address, operator’s licence number, name and address of the registered owner of the vehicle, licence plate number and financial responsibility card to anyone sustaining a loss and to the police. The driver provides this information to persons sustaining loss for civil liability purposes. He or she provides it to the police so they can prepare the accident report. But even the provision of this information does not mean the driver is free to go.”