The regulation of traffic on highways and roads is one of the greatest legal challenges of the 21st century. Not only do three levels of government – federal, provincial and municipal – make traffic laws and statutes, but common law rules still play an important role in this area as well.
Federal involvement comes primarily from criminal law. The Canadian Criminal Code provides for numerous serious offences – including dangerous driving, criminal negligence in the operation of a motor vehicle, criminal negligence causing death, and impaired driving.
Each province is responsible for maintaining the highways which run through it and for governing the conduct of drivers. The provincial highway-traffic acts control all matters pertaining to the use of the roads – including licensing of drivers, registration of vehicles, safety and condition of motor vehicles and rules of the road. These in turn include speed limits, the observation of traffic signals, and rights of way at intersections. Failure to obey these rules may lead to fines, the suspension of the right to drive and even imprisonment.
Municipalities also have jurisdiction, delegated to them by their provincial governments, to control highway traffic and maintain the roads within their control. The traffic rules of municipalities are created by bylaws. Municipalities are also responsible for the safe condition of their roads and can be held civilly liable to persons who are injured while on a dangerous road.
Civil Liability and No Fault Law
In addition to the control and regulation of traffic and roads, traffic law includes the huge area of civil liability arising from the thousands of annual traffic accidents. In most provinces, this area of law is still governed by normal negligence principles, modified somewhat by highway-traffic acts (see Torts). In some provinces, civil actions have been replaced by compulsory no-fault schemes which compensate victims of motor-vehicle accidents without litigation and without regard to fault. The most extensive scheme, which has abolished civil action in all motor-vehicle cases, is in Québec.
All provinces, even those that maintain fault law, have compulsory liability-insurance laws which provide for at least some compensation to motor-vehicle accident victims without the need for costly litigation.