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Alcohol-impaired vs. drug-impaired impaired driving

Region: Ontario Answer # 7703

What is considered impaired driving?

In Canada, impaired driving refers to both alcohol and drug impairment. Under the Canadian Criminal Code, impaired driving 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.

If you have been charged with an impaired driving offence, it is important to hire an experienced criminal defence lawyer as soon as possible.

Drug impairment includes impairment as a result of:

  • cannabis,
  • prescription medication,
  • over-the-counter medications, and
  • illegal substances under the Controlled Drug and Substances Act (CDSA), such as cocaine, methamphetamine, and opioids.

Impaired driving offences under the Criminal Code

Both alcohol and drug-impaired driving offences appear in Section 320.14 of the Criminal Code.

For alcohol and/or drug impairment:

  • 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 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.

For alcohol impairment:

  • Driving while exceeding the legal blood-alcohol limit: Over 80 section 320.14 (1) (b)
    • This offence 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).

For drug impairment:

  • 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.

Prohibited blood drug concentration (BDC) limits

Cannabis (THC)

  • at or over 2 ng (nanograms) but under 5 ng of THC per milliliter (ml) of blood (summary conviction offence)
  • at or over 5 ng of THC per ml of blood (hybrid offence)
  • at or over 2.5 ng of THC per ml of blood combined with 50 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood (hybrid offence)

Other drugs

  • any detectable amount of LSD, psilocybin, psilocin (“magic mushrooms”), ketamine, PCP, cocaine, methamphetamine or 6-mam (a metabolite of heroin) in your system within two hours of driving is prohibited

Testing

Roadside testing methods can be used by law enforcement to test for both alcohol and drug-impaired driving. A breath test (Breathalyzer) is used to test for alcohol impairment to measure blood alcohol concentration (BAC), where a BAC of 0.08% or higher is considered legally impaired. Police may take an oral fluid (saliva) sample to test for drug impairment.

Police can demand a breath sample to test for alcohol whether or not they suspect the driver has recently consumed alcohol. This is only valid as long as the driver has been lawfully stopped, such as for the purpose of checking if the driver has a valid licence and insurance.

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.

Once arrested, further testing can be done at the police station or medical facility, including a blood sample test and a Drug Recognition Evaluation (DRE).

Are the penalties the same for drug-impaired as alcohol-impaired driving?

The penalties for drug-impaired driving are the same as those for alcohol-impaired driving, with the exception of summary cannabis impaired convictions  (over 2 ng but under 5 ng of THC per ml of blood). The penalties include fines, license suspensions, and potential imprisonment, depending on the severity of the offense and the driver’s history.

Refer to other Answers in Impaired Driving Offences for more information. For specific information on cannabis-impaired driving, refer to Cannabis Law.

Failing an impaired driving test can have serious legal consequences for drivers. In many jurisdictions, a driver’s BAC level at the time of arrest can result in immediate suspension of their driver’s license, even before they are convicted of a crime. If a driver is convicted of an impaired driving offence, they may face fines, jail time, or mandatory enrolment in a drug or alcohol treatment program. Repeat offenders may face even harsher penalties, including longer jail sentences and permanent loss of their driver’s license.

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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