Is Signalling Always Required on Roads in Ontario?

From my blog: Simon Says. Category: Police Myths

Prompted by one of the comments to my blog post, Is is legal to pass on a solid yellow line?, I will be writing today about whether signalling a turn or a lane change is always required. Simon Says: No!

First let us explore the relevant section of the Highway Traffic Act. Section 142 (1) states: “The driver or operator of a vehicle upon a highway, before turning to the left or right at any intersection or into a private road or driveway or from one lane for traffic to another lane for traffic or to leave the roadway, shall first see that the movement can be made in safety, and, if the operation of any other vehicle may be affected by the movement, shall give a signal plainly visible to the driver or operator of the other vehicle of the intention to make the movement.”

Regina v. Lebedorf, [1962] O.W.N. 233 (H.C.), creates two separate offences out of this section. The first is the offence of failing to see first that the movement can be made in safety (Turn/Change Lane Not in Safety* – $110 fine/$180 in a community safety zone) and the offence of failing to give a signal plainly visible to the operator of any other vehicle that may be affected by such movement (Fail to Signal Turn/Lane Change* – same fines). For the purposes of this post we will deal with the second offence.

In Regina v. Dillman, [2008] O.J. No. 1120 (Ont. C.J.), the court determined that the offence of turn-not in safety set out in subsection 142 (1) of the Highway Traffic Act was an offence of strict liability. I am persuaded, largely by the Supreme Court’s decision in Regina v. Sault Ste Marie, [1978] 2 S.C.R. 1299, that this classification must apply to the offence Fail to Signal as well. In Sault Ste Marie the court indicated that there is a presumption of strict liability for these types of offences, unless it has been determined otherwise. It does not appear that it has Fail to Signal has been classified as an absolute liability offence and, further, it was conceded in Dillman that the other offence in the same section is not either.

Strict liability means that the prosecution is required to prove actus reus (that the prohibited act itself was committed) beyond a reasonable doubt. But, in strict liability cases, the defendant can make a defence of due diligence, based on a balance of probabilities, by showing that they took all reasonable steps to avoid the offence.

Whether signalling a turn or lane change is always required hinges on one word in the section: if; “if the operation of any other vehicle may be affected by the movement, shall give a signal plainly visible to the driver or operator of the other vehicle of the intention to make the movement.”

Signalling applies to motor vehicles, trailers, and bicycles and can be accomplished by either electronic means (blinkers) or by way of hand signals, as outlined in Section 142, subsections 3-6. But, if there is no one else on the road to be affected, it is not an offence to fail to signal. If an officer observes a driver fail to signal a turn or lane change and wishes to lay the charge against them, they will be required to articulate in court what other vehicle was affected by the turn and how.

Common sense would dictate that “being affected” requires that the person being affected actually be forced to make a course correction, accelerate, or decelerate, in order to avoid a collision with the vehicle that failed to signal. I would suggest that a person (including a police officer) cannot “be affected” if they simply observe the failure to signal from a distance.

However, whether or not it is legally required to signal in a particular situation, we must remember the intent of the legislation: to create an orderly and predicable flow of traffic in order to avoid collisions. Based on that premise it seems prudent to form a habit of signalling, in order that it not be forgotten when needed.

*These are the approved short form wordings for the offences under Section 142 (1)

About the Author

Simon Borys
Simon Borys is a former Police Officer, a student at Queen's University Law School and an aspiring Criminal Lawyer.