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Criminal Drunk or Drugged Driving Offences

Driving when you are over the legal limit for drugs or alcohol and driving while your ability to drive is impaired by alcohol or drugs are serious criminal offences with severe consequences.

Are you over the limit?

Calculations based on the number of drinks you can have in an hour and still be under the limit assume that the individual has consumed a standard drink but, in reality, there is no such thing.

Sometimes people rely on rules, like number of drinks consumed in an hour or number of hours since using cannabis, to estimate if they are over the limit for alcohol or THC. Relying on these calculations is risky – especially when the stakes are as high as they are for drunk or drugged driving.

Alcohol content varies with the type, size and brand of the drink. Even if you could accurately calculate how many grams of alcohol you have consumed, body type, weight, food consumption and the time of day you are drinking will all affect your actual blood alcohol level.

Determining if you are over the limit for THC is even more difficult. You may hear that waiting 4 or 8 hours after using cannabis is a good guideline but many factors such as weight, experience level, and the potency of the cannabis will affect how long you need to wait. There is no formula that can be used to determine if you are over the limit for THC.

Health Canada warns that mixing driving with the drug is not safe and that impairment can last up to 24 hours.

Because consuming these substances affects your ability to make judgments, your own estimation of your condition is not reliable.

Estimates to determine how long you need to wait after drinking or consuming drugs or how much alcohol or drugs it is safe to consume before driving also give you no information about whether your ability to drive is impaired. Alcohol and drugs can have very different effects on different people. An individual’s ability to operate a vehicle can be legally impaired even when they’re under the legal limit for drugs or alcohol. And impaired driving is a criminal offence, and has the same legal consequences as driving over .08 or over the THC limit.

Over .08

It is a criminal offence to drive with a blood alcohol level over .08, regardless of whether any signs of impairment are present.

Scientific evidence shows that almost everyone’s ability to drive will be impaired at .08. When blood alcohol levels reach .08 drivers have difficulties controlling their speed, poor concentration, impaired perception and loss of the ability to process information about their surroundings.

Over THC Limit

Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the component of cannabis that makes you high. THC levels can be measured with a saliva test that looks for the presence of THC, not the amount of THC, or blood tests that measure the amount of THC in a person’s system in nanograms.

It is a criminal offence to drive with a THC blood level of 5 nanograms or more.

It is a less serious criminal offence to drive with a THC blood level over 2 nanograms but under 5 nanograms.

Over Combined Limit for THC & Alcohol

It is a criminal offence to drive with a combination of a blood alcohol level over .05 and a THC blood level of 2.5 nanograms or more.

Other Drug Limits

It is a criminal offence to drive with any detectable level of LSD, psilocybin, psilocin ("magic mushrooms"), ketamine, PCP, cocaine, methamphetamine or 6-mam (a metabolite of heroin)

It is a criminal offence to drive with a blood level of 5mg or more of GHB.

You can be charged with any of these over the limit offences if you are over the limit within 2 hours of driving unless you can show that you drank or took drugs after you drove and that you had no reason to think you would be required to give a sample for testing. In the case of alcohol limits your blood concentration of alcohol must be at a level that is consistent with you being below the limit when you were driving.

Impaired Driving

The term impaired driving is often used as a catch-all phrase to cover a variety of circumstances involving drunk or drugged driving. But it also refers to a particular criminal offence.

It is a criminal offence to drive if you are impaired because of alcohol and/or drugs.

The offence of impaired driving occurs when an individual’s ability to drive is impaired by alcohol or drugs. Unlike the offence of driving over the legal limit, an impaired driving offence depends on the effect that the drugs or alcohol has on a person, not the amount consumed. Alcohol, over-the-counter drugs, prescription drugs or illicit drugs, even in small amounts, can all lead to impairment.

Although an individual may initially be charged with driving over the limit and impaired driving, they can’t be convicted of both charges in relation to the same incident.

Driving While Disqualified

It is a criminal offence to drive while disqualified. This can result in the vehicle you are driving being impounded, fines, jail time, being disqualified from driving for a longer period and loss of insurance coverage.

Care & Control

A person does not actually have to be driving to be charged with being over the limit or impaired driving; these offences include having care or control of a vehicle. Being found in the driver’s seat is enough for a conviction unless that person can show that they did not have care and control of the vehicle.

Consequences

Criminal drunk or drugged driving offences carry severe sentences and increasingly harsh sentences for repeat offences.

For all the offences, convictions within the last 10 years will be considered in determining if it is a 1st, 2nd, 3rd or subsequent offence.

Roadside Licence Suspension

Your driver’s licence will be immediately suspended.

The suspension begins immediately after charges are laid and stays in place until the charges have been dealt with in court.

Vehicle Impoundment

Registered vehicle owners should ensure that individuals who drive their vehicle have a valid driver’s licence and that they will operate the vehicle responsibly. Registered owners are responsible for their vehicle even if they are not the driver.

The vehicle you were driving will be impounded.

  • The vehicle will be impounded, even if it is registered to another individual.
  • The impoundment is for a minimum of 30 days.
  • If your BAC is .16 or higher, or if you refuse to comply with a demand, the minimum impoundment increases to 60 days.
  • Registered owners are responsible for towing and storage costs. In situations where the owner and the driver are not the same person, the owner may start a court action to recover these costs from the driver.

Mandatory Driving Education

  • More intensive programs are required if there are repeat offences.
  • You must pay a registration fee to enrol in these programs.

Ignition Interlock requires drivers to provide a breath sample before the vehicle will start and will prevent the vehicle from starting if alcohol is detected. It also requires and records random breath samples while the vehicle is running. You will be responsible for installation and maintenance costs.

Mandatory Ignition Interlock

If you were driving impaired, over .08 or over the combined alcohol and THC limit, an ignition Interlock must be installed.

  • For a 1st offence, the Mandatory Ignition Interlock is for one year.
  • The length of time that ignition interlock is required goes up with subsequent offences and also with alcohol blood levels (.16 or over) to a maximum of 10 years.
  • There is a minimum estimated cost for ignition interlock of $1,260. This cost goes up with subsequent offences or convictions where there was a blood alcohol level .16 or over or you refused a demand

Safe Driver Recognition Program Penalty

You will have to pay a minimum penalty of $1,250.
• Under the Safe Driver Recognition Program, this penalty increases to $2,250 for a BAC reading .16 or over or refusing to comply with a demand.
Criminal Code convictions from vehicle incidents causing injury or death will result in a $2,500 penalty.

Loss of Insurance

People who drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs can find themselves without insurance coverage. This means that damage to their own vehicle or other losses or injuries may not be covered. SGI will still compensate the drivers and passengers of other vehicles involved in a collision. However, SGI will seek repayment from the uninsured driver. Until the driver pays this money back, or at least gets on a payment plan, they may not be able to get the insurance coverage that is needed to drive.

If you have more than 2 but under 5 nanograms of THC in your blood in addition to the administrative penalties set out above you can receive a Criminal Code conviction and a maximum fine of $1000. The consequences outlined below do not apply to this offence.

Driving Bans

You’ll be banned from driving for at least one year for a 1st offence.

  • For a 2nd offence the minimum ban is 2 years. The minimum goes up to 3 years if the 2nd offence was within 10 years.
  • For a 3rd or subsequent offence, the minimum ban is 3 years.
  • If anyone was injured a ban can be in place for up to 10 years.
  • If anyone is killed the ban can be for life.

You may be able to drive sooner with a special restricted licence or with ignition interlock depending on your situation.

If you are convicted of being over the alcohol, drug or combined alcohol and drug level limits, impaired driving or refusal you will have a criminal record. This can affect future travel, education and employment opportunities. Some employers require criminal record checks and some countries will not allow people with a criminal record to enter or only allow them to enter if they apply for and receive a waiver.

Fines

You will be fined a minimum of $1,000 for a 1st offence.

  • There is minimum fine of $1500 for a first offence if your BAC is over .12 but under .16
  • There is a minimum fine of $2000 for a first offence if your BAC is .16 or over or you refused a demand
  • There is no set maximum fine.

Jail

If this is not your 1st offence, you will go to jail.

  • For a 2nd offence the minimum jail term is 30 days.
  • For a 3rd or subsequent offence the minimum jail term is 120 days.
  • The maximum jail time is 10 years if there is no injury or death.
  • If an injury is caused the maximum is 14 years
  • If a death is caused the maximum is life imprisonment.

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