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Detecting Drunk or Drugged Driving

Police use a variety of methods to determine if a person is driving after drinking or taking drugs. There are specific methods to test the level of alcohol or drugs in a person's system. There are also standardized tests to look for signs that someone is under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Roadside Screening

There are devices that can detect the presence of alcohol or drugs in a drivers’ system. Police can also screen for possible drug or alcohol use by checking things such as the driver’s ability to balance, follow an object with their eyes and follow instructions.

In most cases the police must suspect the person has consumed alcohol or drugs within 3 hours of driving to demand that the driver submit to roadside testing. A driver who fails roadside screening can be arrested and required to undergo testing for drugs or alcohol.

Alcohol Screening

Mandatory Alcohol Screening

If the police have lawfully stopped your car they can require you to blow into a roadside alcohol screening device even if they do not have any grounds for believing you have consumed alcohol.

Roadside alcohol screening involves having the driver blow into a device that can tell the police if the driver has alcohol in their system.

An individual who submits a breath sample in the "Warn" range (not over .08) can be subject to administrative penalties such as a roadside suspension or an immediate roadside prohibition.

An individual who submits a breath sample and registers a "Fail" (over.08) will be required to provide further breath samples at the police station.

Drug Screening

Roadside drug screening is done by requiring the driver to provide a saliva sample. Like the roadside screening for alcohol, this test can determine if certain drugs, such as THC, are in the person’s system but it does not provide a measurement of the amount.

Standard Field Sobriety Tests

A Standard Field Sobriety Test is another way to screen drivers for possible drug or alcohol use within 3 hours of driving.

Cannabis has a unique drug evaluation and classification (DEC) profile that includes poor coordination and balance, reduced ability to divide attention, elevated pulse and blood pressure, dilated pupils, bloodshot eyes, inability to cross one’s eyes and tremors of the eyes and/or body.

— ~ Clearing the Smoke on Cannabis; The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse

The test typically includes checking a driver’s ability to follow the movement of an object with their eyes, keep their balance and follow instructions.

Testing

A police officer’s observations of the way that a person drove or the way that they looked and acted when stopped may be used as evidence to show that the person was driving impaired. Some of the things an officer looks for are: Was the car weaving across the road? Did the driver miss a stop sign or a red light? Does their breath smell of alcohol? Are there unusual changes to the driver’s pupils? Does the driver need to lean on something to stand up? Are they unsteady? Are their eyes glassy or red and watery?

If the police have reasonable grounds to believe a driver is impaired to any degree by drugs or alcohol they can demand that the driver submit to testing to determine if there is alcohol or drugs in their system and if so the amount.

Reasonable grounds to require these tests can be based on the driver failing roadside screening or on other observations made by the police.

Breathalyzers

A breathalyzer demand may be made when a police officer has reasonable grounds to believe that a driver is impaired to any degree by alcohol. Breathalyzer machines are calibrated to indicate a precise blood-alcohol reading expressed as a percentage. For example, a BAC of .04% means that you have 40 milligrams of alcohol in 100 milliliters of blood.

Drug Recognition Expert Evaluation

If the police have reason to believe that a driver is impaired to any degree by drugs or by a combination of drugs and alcohol they can require the driver to submit to an evaluation by a trained officer. The evaluation includes sobriety tests that are similar to the SFST's, taking clinical indicators (blood pressure, body temperature, pulse, etc.) and measuring your pupil size in different lighting conditions.

If the evaluation determines that the driver is impaired by drugs or a combination of alcohol and drugs a bodily fluid sample (blood, oral fluid or urine) is taken to confirm the findings of the evaluator.

Blood Samples

There police can require a blood sample as an alternative to a breath sample or when impairment by drugs or a combination of drugs and alcohol is suspected.

In some situations, the police can demand a blood sample rather than a breath sample when they have reasonable grounds to believe that a driver is impaired to any degree by alcohol. A demand for a blood sample can be made when a police officer believes that the driver’s physical condition makes them unable to take a breathalyzer test. A demand for a blood sample may also be made when it would be unreasonably difficult to obtain breath samples. For example, a person who suffers a mouth or face injury in a collision might not be able to provide a proper breath sample.

If the police have reason to believe that the driver is impaired to any degree by drugs or by a combination of drugs and alcohol they can require the driver to provide blood samples that would allow a qualified person to determine the driver’s blood drug concentration as well as the driver’s blood alcohol concentration.

Refusal

It is a criminal offence to refuse to take any of the above tests or provide the required samples. The consequences for refusal are the same as being convicted of a criminal drug or alcohol driving charge, with the addition of things like longer impoundment times, larger penalties under the Safe Driver Recognition Program and longer periods of Mandatory Ignition Lock.

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