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Overview of impaired driving (DUI) laws in Canada

Region: Ontario Answer # 7700

What is considered impaired driving?

The Criminal Code of Canada outlines the legal limits and penalties for impaired driving offenses in Canada. Under section 320.14, impaired driving (DWI), also commonly known as DUI (driving under the influence) means operating a vehicle while:

  • having consumed alcohol or drugs, or a combination of the two,
  • your ability was affected to any degree by alcohol or drugs.

It’s not just cars and trucks that fall under impaired driving laws in Canada. Any vehicle, including boats, snowmobiles, and off-road vehicles, can lead to charges if operated while impaired. If you have been charged with a criminal driving offence such as impaired driving, it is important to hire an experienced criminal defence lawyer as soon as possible.

Impaired driving offences under the Criminal Code

Specific offences under the Criminal Code include:

  • Driving while intoxicated by alcohol or drugs: Impaired driving, section 320.14 (1) (a)
    • This offense occurs when a person operates a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol, drugs (including prescription, over-the-counter medications, and illegal substances), or a combination of both. The law defines impairment as a diminished ability to operate a vehicle safely due to the consumption of alcohol or drugs.
  • Driving while exceeding the legal blood-alcohol limit: Over 80 section 320.14 (1) (b)
    • This offense occurs when a person has, within two hours after ceasing to operate a motor vehicle, a blood alcohol concentration that is equal to or exceeds 80 mg of alcohol in 100 mL of blood (BAC).
  • Driving while exceeding the legal blood-drug limit, section 320.14 (1) (c)
    • This offence occurs when a person has, within two hours after ceasing to operate a motor vehicle, a blood drug concentration that is equal to or exceeds the blood drug concentration for the drug that is prescribed by regulation.
  • Driving while exceeding the legal combination of blood drug/alcohol limit, section 320.14 (1) (d)
    • This offence occurs when a person has, within two hours after ceasing to operate a motor vehicle, a blood alcohol concentration and a blood drug concentration that is equal to or exceeds the blood alcohol concentration and the blood drug concentration for the drug that are prescribed by regulation for instances where alcohol and that drug are combined.
  • Failure or refusal to comply with demand, section 320.15
    • This offence occurs when a person refuses to provide a breath or bodily fluid sample or perform a sobriety test.

View 7703 Alcohol-impaired vs drug-impaired driving for information on prohibited drug and/or drug and alcohol blood concentration limits.

A driver does not have to exceed the legal blood-alcohol, or blood-drug limit to be charged with impaired driving. The only requirement for a charge of impaired driving is that your ability to drive was affected to any degree, by alcohol or drugs, regardless of how much or how little was actually consumed.

Depending on the findings of the police, the test results, and the specific circumstances, a driver may be charged with one or more additional criminal driving offences, such as:

How do police assess whether you are impaired?

Under the law, the police have the right to stop vehicles and ask drivers if they have consumed alcohol or drugs. You are not required to answer such questions, however it is in your best interests to cooperate with police. You are required to provide the police with your driver’s licence, car ownership, and insurance papers.

There are a number of ways police can test a driver for impairment:

Roadside tests, which can include:

  • Breathalyzer (breath-screening test for alcohol)
  • the Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) – which can include examining the eyes of drivers, as well as putting drivers through a series of physical tests, and
  • an oral fluid (saliva) sample to test for drug impairment.

Testing done at a police station or medical facility may include:

  • evidentiary breath-screening test
  • blood sample testing
  • Drug Recognition Evaluation (DRE)

For more information, view 7709 Penalties for impaired driving offences.

Mandatory alcohol screening

Mandatory alcohol screening under section 320.27(1) of the Criminal Code authorizes police officers to demand that a driver provide a roadside breath sample on an approved screening device without reasonable suspicion that the driver has alcohol in their body. This is only allowed after the person has been lawfully stopped, for example if an officer stops a driver under provincial highway traffic law to check for a valid licence or for vehicle fitness.

However, to demand an oral fluid sample, police must have a reasonable suspicion that the driver has drugs in their body, for instance because the driver has red eyes or muscle tremors or appears agitated.

If you are arrested and taken to the police station or medical facility for further testing, you do have the right to have a lawyer present.

Penalties for impaired driving

Drivers who are found to be impaired by drugs will be subject to criminal charges that carry the same penalties as driving while impaired by alcohol, with the exception of summary cannabis impaired convictions (at or over 2 ng (nanograms) but under 5 ng of THC per milliliter of blood). If convicted of impaired driving, there are penalties under both the Ontario Highway Traffic Act and the Canadian Criminal Code. Penalties vary depending on the severity of the offence.

Criminal Code penalties may include:

  • Fines
  • Imprisonment
  • Licence suspension

Highway Traffic Act penalties may include:

  • immediate licence suspensions
  • vehicle impoundment
  • mandatory participation in a Ignition Interlock program
  • a licence reinstatement charge
  • fines
  • completion of an impaired driver’s assessment
  • completion of alcohol and drug education programs

Provincial Ignition Interlock Condition

Along with fines, licence suspensions, or jail time, the court may also order impaired drivers to enroll in a drug or alcohol rehabilitation program, or the Ignition Interlock Program. The Criminal Code allows each province to implement an interlock program.

When using the Ignition Interlock Program, drivers must blow into an in-car alcohol breath-screening device that prevents a vehicle from starting if it detects a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) over a pre-set limit of 0.02 (i.e., 20 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood). The device is located inside the vehicle, near the driver’s seat, and is connected to the engine’s ignition system. For more information on the Ignition Interlock Program, visit ontario.ca.

Zero tolerance for drivers 21 and under, novice and commercial drivers

Canada has a zero-tolerance policy for impaired driving. This means that even a small amount of alcohol or drugs in your system can result in an impaired driving (DWI/DUI) charge.

In Ontario, any licensed drivers who are 21 years old and under, regardless of licence class, or novice drivers (with G1, G2, M1, or M2 licenses) caught with any alcohol or drugs (including cannabis or other drugs that can be detected by an oral screening device) in his or her system who are convicted in court, will face an additional fine of $60-$500 and an additional 30-day licence suspension. Commercial drivers (drivers of vehicles requiring an A-F class licence, vehicles requiring a CVOR – Commercial Vehicle Operator’s Registration, and road building machines) are also subject to the zero tolerance rule in Ontario.

Medical Cannabis users

Motorists who are legally authorized to use cannabis for medical purposes are exempt from zero tolerance drug rules for young, novice and commercial drivers. However, all Criminal Code driving offences will still apply. Even if you have been authorized to use cannabis by a health care professional, it is your responsibility to ensure you are not impaired while driving and that your cannabis blood level is under the prohibited limit. For more information view our Cannabis Law section.

DUI Probation Violation

If you have been given a Probation Order for an impaired driving charge, and you commit a violation of anything in the Probation Order, such as failure to appear in court, possession of drugs or alcohol, or failure to complete court appointed programs, this could result in a probation violation charge. This is a serious offence and you should contact a lawyer as soon as possible.

Other consequences to an impaired driving conviction

Along with these possible penalties, an impaired driving conviction can have long-term consequences, such as a criminal record and difficulty finding employment or housing. It can also impact one’s ability to travel to other countries, as some countries have strict prohibitions on individuals with DUI convictions (e.g., the USA).

Automobile insurance

If you were at fault for an automobile accident while you were impaired, your automobile insurance policy will not cover damage to your vehicle and you may not be eligible to receive certain other benefits, such as income replacement benefits.

Get help

To erase your criminal record, call toll-free 1-888-808-3628 or learn more at Pardon Partners. It’s easier than you think.

If you have been charged with a driving offence, it is important to hire an experienced criminal defence lawyer as soon as possible. Contact our preferred criminal defence expert, Calvin Barry Criminal Lawyers for a free consultation at 416-938-5858 .

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