The Legal Consequences of Impaired Driving

Impaired driving, which means driving while your ability is affected by alcohol or drugs, is a crime under the Criminal Code of Canada. If convicted, you can lose your licence, be fined, or spend time in jail.

Drugs and Driving

Any drug that changes your mood, or the way you see and feel, will affect the way you drive. This is not only true for illegal drugs, but also for some prescription and over-the-counter drugs that may impair your driving ability. Drug impaired driving carries the same criminal charges and provincial sanctions as alcohol impaired driving.

Alcohol and Driving

Drinking and driving is a deadly combination. One drink can reduce your ability to concentrate and react to things that happen suddenly while you are driving. The more alcohol in your blood, the more difficulty you have judging distances and reacting to sudden hazards on the road. To make matters worse, your vision may be blurred.

Consequences of Drinking and Driving

Consequences for impaired driving are serious and can result in a criminal offence under the Criminal Code of Canada:

  • Licence suspension
  • Vehicle impoundment
  • Monetary fines and penalties
  • Mandatory education or treatment program
  • Requirement to install an ignition interlock device in your vehicle
  • Jail time
  • Criminal record

What counts as impaired driving

Impaired driving means operating a vehicle (including cars, trucks, boats, snowmobiles and off-road vehicles) while your ability to do so has been compromised to any degree by consuming alcohol, drugs or a combination of the two.

Fully Licensed Drivers

Throughout Canada, the maximum legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) for fully licensed drivers is to be under 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood, or 0.08. Driving with  a BAC of 0.08 or over is a criminal offence and the penalties are severe.

In Ontario, you will also face serious consequences if your BAC is between 0.05 and 0.08. This is commonly referred to as the “warn range.”

If police determine that you are driving while impaired by any drug, including illegal drugs, cannabis, prescription and over-the-counter medications, you will face severe consequences and criminal charges.

Drug-impaired driving is becoming a much more common issue on Canada’s streets, and the number of people driving after taking drugs is greater than those who drive after drinking. Regardless of public perception that drugs may be less harmful to drivers, evidence is growing that drug impairment contributes to collisions. Roadside saliva tests have become more accurate and cost-effective in recent years, particularly for the most commonly-used drugs. Drugs can cause you not to think through decisions before making them. When under the influence you have control over your body and who knows what would happen, it could be as extensive as waking up in the hospital or not waking up at all. The consequences are the same for drinking and driving pretty much.

Driving Prohibitions vs. Suspensions

Canada is a federal state, and responsibility for road safety with respect to drunk driving falls on both Parliament and the provincial legislatures. Typically after an impaired driving offence is committed, the accused will be subject to both a prohibition imposed under federal law (criminal law) and a driver’s licence suspension under provincial law. It is important to note that while Parliament may prohibit an accused from driving, in the absence of provincial legislation, this does not affect the validity of the driver’s licence of the accused. Nonetheless the accused may be charged with driving while prohibited under criminal law despite possessing a valid driver’s licence.

Often the provincial suspensions are more severe than the criminal prohibition. For instance many jurisdictions require the accused to complete a remedial program and participate in the ignition interlock program, failing which will result in an indefinite suspension until the conditions are met. Also an accused may be suspended from driving for medical reasons if a physician reports that the accused has a serious alcohol problem likely to result in an unacceptable risk to the public should the accused operate a motor vehicle.

The Criminal Code provides that an accused may be prosecuted for either driving while prohibited or driving while disqualified. The former refers to driving in contravention of a criminal court order of prohibition while the latter refers to driving while suspended under provincial legislation relating to a suspension for an impaired driving offence.

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