Canada’s strict new impaired driving laws
On December 18, new impaired-driving laws that are stricter than ever before will come into effect. They include harsher penalties, amendments to existing offences and some entirely new offences altogether. You may not have heard about them until now, but you shouldn’t feel bad. There has been virtually no publicity from the government of Canada to make people aware of the new legislation.
That’s why we have decided to tell you what to expect if you get pulled over by a police officer from Tuesday onwards. Regular readers of this blog will know we have previously warned people about the changing impaired-driving landscape as well as other Criminal Code drunk-driving changes. Forgive us for sounding like a broken record, but if we don’t do something to raise awareness then who will?
It is likely that these new rules are going to come in for some constitutional scrutiny but until that happens it is vital you abide by the new legislation. Ignorance is not an excuse. The law is the law and you don’t want to wrongfully incriminate yourself or find yourself in unnecessary trouble. Do the smart thing and make yourself familiar with the new rules and then share this information with your friends and family. We urge you to tell your friends and family about the changes.
We urge you to tell your friends and family about the changes.
Random breath testing
Perhaps the biggest change to Canada’s impaired driving laws is that the police can now require a driver to provide a sample of breath at the roadside even without a reasonable suspicion that the driver has alcohol in their body. Previously, police officers had to have a reasonable suspicion – such as the driver smelling of alcohol or admitting drinking– in order to require a person to blow into an Approved Screening Device (ASD). This effectively means officers now have carte blanche to conduct random roadside breath tests on drivers.
Anyone ignorant of this new law who gets pulled over, despite not having touched a drop of alcohol, may believe that unless the police have grounds to suspect they have been drinking, they can refuse the ASD demand. Under no circumstances should you refuse to give a roadside breath sample. Which brings us to the next big change.
Increased fine for refusal to be tested
The mandatory minimum fine for refusing to provide a sample of breath at the roadside will double after December 18, from $1,000 to $2,000. On top of that, anyone who refuses can still expect to receive a one-year driving prohibition and a criminal conviction, even for a first offence.
Escalating penalties for higher blood alcohol content
Previously, if you were convicted of alcohol-impaired driving or driving over 0.08 that did not cause bodily harm or death you could expect at least a $1,000 fine, one-year driving suspension and criminal record. After December 18, there will be higher fines if your BAC has reached certain thresholds. The drunker you are, the harsher the punishment.
The escalating scale for penalties for impaired driving can be found here:
Although there will be higher fines for people who are more over the limit, mandatory minimum penalties for second and third offences stay the same at 30 and 120 days in prison, respectively.
New offences for drug-impaired driving
While the existing laws for alcohol-impaired driving are changing, new offences for drug-impaired driving will come into effect for the first time after December 18. This is a direct response to the legalization of cannabis in October but it also includes other drugs such as cocaine and LSD.
The legislation creates new offences for having THC in your blood within two hours of driving. Having between 2 and 5 nanograms (ng) of THC per 1 ml blood is punishable by a $1,000 fine while having 5 ng or more of THC can result in up to 120 days in prison for a third offence or more.
Police across the country will use a device called theDräger DrugTest 5000 to conduct roadside screening for drugs and blood samples can be taken at police detachments.
How much cannabis can you consume and still be under the legal limit? One puff? Two puffs? A whole joint? The answer depends on such things as the THC content of the strain you have consumed. THC can vary a lot so there is no standardized way of knowing how much cannabis will take you over the 2 ng threshold.
Having any trace of drugs like LSD, PCP, ketamine or cocaine while driving will also result in the same mandatory minimum penalties.
Another big change is a new hybrid offence. It will be illegal to have a BAC 50 mg of alcohol in 100 ml of blood alcohol plus 2.5 ng of THC in 1ml of blood while driving. So even if you are below the limit for alcohol and within the lower bracket for THC, having the two combined will push you into the more serious category.
A summary of the penalties for the new drug-impaired driving offences can be found here:
Maximum penalties increasing
The maximum penalties for impaired driving will also be higher after December 18. For impaired driving causing no bodily harm or death, the highest possible punishment for a summary conviction will increase from 18 months imprisonment to two years less a day. For drivers prosecuted by indictment for the same offence, the maximum prison term will double from five years to 10.
For impaired driving causing bodily harm, the maximum penalty for a conviction by indictment is increasing from 10 to 14 years in prison.
A summary of the maximum penalties after December 18 can be found here:
Why we’re sharing Canada’s new impaired driving laws
In light of these changes we are concerned, there will be a lot of drivers who simply don’t know about Canada’s new impaired driving laws come December 18. There will be plenty out there find themselves facing an IRP for refusal to blow or the possibility of a criminal conviction for ASD refusal
We urge you to tell your friends and family about the changes so they are prepared in the event they are selected by police officers for a breathalyzer demand.