In today’s legal landscape, the definition of impaired driving has evolved, and you might be unfamiliar with what exactly impaired driving is.
What is impaired driving?
If you look to Wikipedia, impaired driving is defined as:
“having care or the control of a motor vehicle while the person's ability to operate the motor vehicle is impaired by alcohol or a drug.”
Seems straightforward, doesn’t it? Operating a passenger car, commercial vehicle, motorcycle, or any other machinery while under the influence is considered impaired driving. But what you might not be aware of is that certain penalties can be applied up to two hours after the act of driving.
The Canadian government sets the limit on how much is too much. And since Canada legalized the use of cannabis in 2018, it affected how impaired driving laws are applied in the country.
What is the safe limit for driving after drinking?
The safe limit for consuming alcoholic beverages and then getting behind the wheel of a vehicle is… none. Even one drink can affect your ability to make the right decisions and snap judgements.
The enforceable limits are different though, based on the concentration of alcohol in your bloodstream, or blood-alcohol concentration (BAC).
Canada’s Department of Justice establishes that the prohibited blood alcohol concentration is “80 milligrams (mg) or more of alcohol per 100 millilitres (ml) of blood.” That’s where the number ‘.08’ comes from. Provincial limits and penalties can be established at a lower level yet.
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Can I take cannabis and drive?
Pot, weed, marijuana, reefer, the herbal, maryjane – whatever name you call it, cannabis is still a drug. It’s been legalized in Canada but that doesn’t mean it’s free from consequences if you partake. Smoking or consuming cannabis and driving can land you in legal hot water, and a jail cell.
The primary psychoactive component in pot is THC. Consequences vary depending on the concentration in your blood. While it’s prohibited to drive with between two and five nanograms (ng) of THC per ml of blood, the offence is even more serious when it’s above 5ng per ml.
Read More: Driving While High: What Are the Laws in Canada?
What about other drugs?
Clearly, the big factors for impaired driving are alcohol and cannabis. However, having any detectable amount of other illegal drugs in your system within two hours of driving is a big no-no. The exception is GHB, a party drug that’s naturally produced in human bodies in very small quantities – over 5mg of GHB per ml of blood is prohibited.
Canada’s penalties for impaired driving
Canada’s Department of Justice has established legal penalties for people convicted of impaired driving.
- If convicted of your first offence of alcohol impaired driving at or over .08 within two hours of driving, the mandatory minimum penalty is a $1,000 fine. Fines increase according to BAC with:
- .08 to .119 dealt a $1,000 fine
- .120 to .159 commanding a $1,500 fine, and;
- blowing .160 or higher commanding a minimum $2,000 fine.
- If convicted of your first offence of drug-impaired driving with more than 5ng of THC or any other prohibited drug in your system within two hours of driving, the mandatory minimum penalty is a $1,000 fine.
- The same minimum penalty applies if convicted of driving with more than 2.5ng of THC per ml and a BAC of .05 combined.
- For any of the above, a second conviction will net you a mandatory minimum 30 days in prison.
- And for a third conviction, offenders will receive a mandatory minimum penalty of 120 days in prison.
- The maximum penalty for the above charges is 10 years in prison.
Should you choose not to provide a sample when it’s been requested, there’s a minimum $2,000 fine.
There are other penalties to consider too. A summary conviction for drug-impaired driving with 2ng of THC per ml of blood, up to 5ng, within two hours of getting behind the wheel will command a $1,000 fine.
A conviction for impaired driving causing bodily harm has stiff but just penalties. A summary conviction carries a maximum two years in prison less a day while an indictment has a maximum prison term of 14 years.
And if convicted of impaired driving causing death, an indictment carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Penalties for impaired driving by province
In Canada, provinces can apply supplemental laws for impaired driving. This is a breakdown of any additional province-by-province penalties you can expect for illegally driving under the influence.
- British Columbia
- New Brunswick
- Newfoundland and Labrador
- Nova Scotia
- Prince Edward Island
(Click here to see Territories)
Impaired driving penalties in Alberta
Alberta’s impaired driving penalties follow the federal guidelines for impaired driving. However, additional sanctions may apply for a conviction.
- For the first offence in a 10-year period, you’ll receive an immediate 90-day licence suspension and an additional one-year driving suspension where you must participate in an Ignition Interlock Program if you wish to drive again. Your vehicle will be seized for three days and you’ll need to participate in a ‘Planning Ahead’ course.
- For a second offence in a 10-year period, the same suspension occurs along with a seven-day vehicle seizure. If you’re criminally convicted, a three-year mandatory Ignition Interlock Program and weekend live-in course is also required.
- For any additional convictions, penalties repeat except that the Ignition Interlock Program is extended to five years.
Impaired driving penalties in British Columbia
In addition to the federal penalties and standards, provincial laws in British Columbia are even more stringent.
- A BAC reading up to .049 may result in a 12-hour driving prohibition if you’re in the Graduated Licensing Program.
If your BAC is over .05:
- The first offence will result in an immediate three-day license seizure, a three-day vehicle impoundment, a $200 administrative penalty, and you’ll have to apply to have your license reinstated.
- The second offence within a five-year period has a penalty of a seven-day license seizure, seven-day vehicle impound, a $300 administrative penalty, and potentially a referral to the Responsible Driver Program.
- A third offence carries a 30-day license forfeiture, 30-day impoundment, $400 admin penalty, and possibly a referral for the Ignition Interlock Program.
Impaired driving penalties in Manitoba
In Manitoba, a suspected drug or alcohol impairment can result in a 24-hour roadside suspension.
If your BAC is between .05 and .79, it’s considered a ‘warn’ level and has sanctions that include:
- An administrative penalty of at least $400 and a tiered vehicle impoundment term of 3 to 60 days, plus the loss of points on the Driver Safety Rating.
- If you register a BAC of .08 or more, or fail the drug standard, a three-month Administrative License Suspension is levied.
- If convicted of impaired driving, penalties may include losing up to 15 points on the Driver Safety Rating scale, a hefty fine, possible prison time, a driving prohibition, mandatory license suspension, possible participation in the Ignition Interlock Program, and potential vehicle forfeiture.
- If you have your license suspended two or more times within a 10-year time frame, a mandatory Impaired Driver Program assessment must be completed at the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba—at your expense.
Impaired driving penalties in New Brunswick
The Motor Vehicle Act in New Brunswick enforces stricter impaired driving laws than the federal standards.
For drivers with a BAC between .05 and .079, a first offence nets a seven-day license suspension. A second offence lands a 15-day suspension while a third offence in five years results in a 30-day suspension, a license reinstatement fee, and mandatory involvement in a drinking driver education course.
Vehicles may also be impounded for:
- Up to seven days if the BAC is within the warning range.
- 30 days on the first suspension with a BAC of .08 or higher.
- 60 days on subsequent infractions.
For criminal convictions related to impaired driving in New Brunswick, a breathalyzer is mandatory for any vehicle the convicted person wishes to drive. The ignition interlock device is voluntary for short-term license suspensions.
Impaired driving penalties in Newfoundland and Labrador
Newfoundland and Labrador is one of the strictest provinces for impaired driving.
Drivers under 22 years of age may not have a BAC higher than 0 while driving and convictions are possible for BAC levels higher than .049.
- Potential 24-hour license suspension for a BAC between .05 and .08 for a first offence, longer for subsequent offences.
- For GDL drivers, a first offence in the zero-tolerance program nets a two-month suspension, a second offence gets a four-month suspension, and a third offence is a six-month suspension plus an alcohol education program.
- Drivers under 22 years of age can expect an immediate seven-day vehicle impoundment if alcohol levels under .08 are found.
- For any driver convicted of impaired driving, participation in an ignition interlock program is mandatory.
If caught blowing higher than .08, an immediate 24-hour suspension and a 90-day license suspension beginning 14 days after the arrest is levied. After a criminal conviction, the first offence carries a one-year driving prohibition, $600 fine, and alcohol education program.
A second offence is a three-year driving prohibition, a minimum of 14 days jail time, and alcohol and drug screening. A third offence is a 10-year driving prohibition, 90 days behind bars, as well as an alcohol & drug screening.
Impaired driving penalties in Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia’s impaired driving penalties are strict and broken down into four categories.
- A first offence inside a 10-year period results in a fine of $600 to $2,000, a one-year license revocation from date of conviction, a mandatory addiction assessment program, license reinstatement fee, and you may be required to retake your driving tests.
- A second offence in a 10-year period carries a fine of $600 to $2,000, a possible prison term of 14 days or more, a three-year driving suspension plus a license reinstatement fee, addiction assessment program, and mandatory license retesting.
- A third offence increases the prison term to 90 days or more and a minimum revocation of driving privileges.
- A fourth offence carries a permanent revocation of driving privileges.
New rules in the Province of Nova Scotia apply to driving while a child is in the car. If you are convicted of impaired driving while a child under the age of 16 is onboard, you’ll lose your license for two years and have to pay a minimum $1,000 fine. To get your license back, participation in an addictions program and an ignition interlock program are mandatory.
Impaired driving penalties in Ontario
In Ontario, impaired driving laws extend well beyond the federal penalties.
For failing a field sobriety test or testing in the WARN range or violating zero tolerance:
- A three-day license suspension and $250 penalty are assessed for the first offence.
- A second offence carries a seven-day suspension, $350 penalty, and a mandatory education program.
- Subsequent offences carry a 30-day suspension, $450 penalty, mandatory treatment program, mandatory ignition interlock device for 6 months, and a mandatory medical evaluation.
- For blowing over .08 or refusing a test, the penalty is a 90-day suspension, seven-day vehicle impoundment, $550 penalty, $281 license reinstatement fee, mandatory treatment program, and mandatory ignition interlock.
If you’re criminally convicted in court:
- A first offence has a one-year license suspension, mandatory education or treatment program, required use of ignition interlock device for a year, and medical evaluation.
- A second offence within 10 years increases penalties to a three-year license suspension and a three-year requirement for ignition interlock device.
- Additional offences increase penalties to a minimum 10-year suspension with possible lifetime suspension, as well as a six-year mandatory ignition interlock device.
Impaired driving penalties in Prince Edward Island
PEI’s Highway Traffic Act allows for penalties beyond the Canadian criminal code for impaired driving offences.
- If you’re convicted of impaired driving for the first time, you’ll have your license cancelled for one year and will have to pay a $750 reinstatement fee. Furthermore, an Ignition Interlock Device is mandatory for one year.
- For a second offence, your license will be cancelled for three years and will have a mandatory Ignition Interlock Device for three-to-five years.
- For additional offences, a five-year license cancellation applies in addition to a 10-year period with an Ignition Interlock Device.
You’re required to abide by strict requirements including rehabilitation courses and administrative probation for up to 10 years after a conviction. Huge fines of $1,000 or more, not to mention jail sentences, are at the discretion of the courts.
Impaired driving penalties in Quebec
Quebec’s impaired driving laws are in line with the Canadian criminal code but go further.
- Upon your arrest, you’ll receive an immediate license suspension for up to 90 days and an immediate vehicle seizure for up to 30 days.
- Once convicted, you’ll receive a driving prohibition of at least one year, your license is revoked for one-to-three years, you must complete an impaired driving program, and an ignition interlock device is mandatory. The minimum financial penalties for a first offence are $1,750.
- For repeat offenders within a 10-year period, a minimum two-year prohibition, up to five-year license revocation, possible prison time, varying vehicle use prohibition, and a lifelong ignition interlock device are levied.
Impaired driving penalties in Saskatchewan
If you’ve been convicted of impaired driving in Saskatchewan, you’ll receive an indefinite license suspension until your case goes through the courts.
- If you’re convicted of impaired driving with a BAC under .16, your vehicle will be impounded for 30 days. For BAC higher than .16, the impoundment term is 60 days.
- For a first offence in a 10-year period, you’ll need to complete a mandatory education program and pay a $1,250 penalty. You’ll move to -20 on the driver rating scale. If your BAC is over .16, the penalty increases by $1,000.
- For additional offences, the penalties are the same although the education courses increase in intensity.
- An ignition interlock device will be mandatory for between one and ten years.
Impaired driving penalties in Yukon
If an officer reasonably suspects you for impaired driving in Yukon, they can suspend your license for 24 hours and impound your vehicle. If you’re convicted of impaired driving, you may:
- Have your license suspended for 90 days and have your vehicle impounded for at least 30 days.
- A criminal conviction for a first offence will result in a one-year territorial license disqualification. A second offence carries a three-year disqualification, while a third offence carries an indefinite disqualification.
Impaired driving penalties in Northwest Territories and Nunavut
In Northwest Territories and Nunavut, drivers under the age of 22 aren’t allowed any alcohol or drugs in their system while driving.
For drivers with a BAC of .05 or higher, a 24-hour administrative license suspension may be issued. It can be increased to up to 30 days if a driver carries a previous suspension and prohibition.
- For a first offence driving with a BAC over .08, the penalty carries a minimum $1,000 fine and a 12-month driving prohibition.
- For a second conviction, a 30-day jail sentence and 24-month driving prohibition are levied.
- Subsequent offences are higher yet – a minimum of 120 days in jail and a three-year driving prohibition.
Any driver who fails a Standardized Field Sobriety Test or official evaluation (or refuses one without a reasonable excuse) faces licence suspensions or disqualification.
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