Impaired Driving

Know what counts as impaired driving – and the penalties you could face for it – before you get behind the wheel.

  1. How drugs and alcohol affect your driving
  2. What counts as impaired driving
  3. Zero tolerance for young, novice and commercial drivers
  4. Medical cannabis users
  5. Penalties for impaired driving
    1. Immediate penalties
    2. Penalties if convicted in court
  6. How police detect impaired drivers
  7. Tips to avoid impaired driving

How drugs and alcohol affect your driving

Illegal drugs, cannabis, over-the-counter and prescription medications can all affect your judgment, reaction time, coordination and motor skills. Even a small amount of drugs, no matter how they are taken, can impair your ability to drive, and when you drive high, your risk of crashing more than doubles.

Alcohol — even one drink — can reduce your ability to react to things that happen suddenly. The effects of alcohol also include blurred or double vision, impaired attention and slowed reflexes. Alcohol-impaired driving is one of the leading causes of death on Ontario’s roads.

What counts as impaired driving

Impaired driving means operating a vehicle (including cars, trucks, boats, snowmobiles and off-road vehicles) while your ability to do so has been compromised to any degree by consuming alcohol, drugs or a combination of the two.

Fully Licensed Drivers

Throughout Canada, the maximum legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) for fully licensed drivers is 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood, or 0.08. Driving with BAC over 0.08 is a criminal offence and the penalties are severe.

In Ontario, you will also face serious consequences if your BAC is between 0.05 and 0.08. This is commonly referred to as the “warn range.”

If police determine that you are driving while impaired by any drug, including illegal drugs, cannabis, prescription and over-the-counter medications, you will face severe consequences and criminal charges.

Zero tolerance for young, novice and commercial drivers

Young and Novice Drivers

Drivers age 21 or under and novice drivers of any age (with G1, G2, M1, or M2 licenses) must not have any presence of alcohol in their blood when behind the wheel. This is commonly referred to as the “zero BAC” or “zero tolerance” rule.

As of July 1, 2018, young and novice drivers are prohibited from having any presence of cannabis in their system as well as other drugs that can be detected by an oral fluid screening device. That means that Ontario has a zero tolerance approach to both alcohol and drugs for all young and novice drivers.

If police determine that you have the presence of cannabis or alcohol in your system and/or that you are impaired by any substance including illegal drugs, prescription drugs or over-the-counter medications, you will face severe consequences and potential criminal charges.

Commercial Drivers

As of July 1, 2018 drivers of vehicles requiring an A-F class licence, vehicles requiring a Commercial Vehicle Operator's Registration (CVOR) and road building machines are prohibited from having any presence of alcohol in their blood when behind the wheel of these types of vehicles. These drivers are also prohibited from having any presence of cannabis in their system as well as other drugs that can be detected by an oral fluid screening device.

If police determine that you have the presence of cannabis or alcohol in your system and/or that you are impaired by any substance including illegal drugs, prescription drugs or over-the-counter medications, you will face severe consequences and potential criminal charges.

Medical Cannabis Users

If a police officer is satisfied that you are legally authorized to use cannabis for medical purposes, you will not be subject to Ontario’s zero tolerance drug requirements for young, novice and commercial drivers. However, you can still face penalties and criminal charges if a police officer determines that your ability to drive has been impaired. Even if you have been authorized to use cannabis or another drug by a health care professional, it is your responsibility to ensure you are not impaired while driving.

Penalties for impaired driving

If police determine that you are driving while impaired you will face penalties immediately. You will also face additional consequences later if you are convicted in court. The penalties you face can vary depending on your age, licence type, the amount of alcohol or drugs in your system, and how many times you have been convicted.

Immediate Penalties

Penalties for a BAC in the Warn Range, Failing a Standardized Field Sobriety Test or Violating Zero Tolerance

If your blood alcohol concentration is 0.05 or higher, you fail a roadside sobriety test or you violate the zero tolerance requirements for young, novice and commercial drivers that begin on July 1, you will face:

First offence

  • 3-day licence suspension. This cannot be appealed.
  • $250 penalty (begins January 2019)

Second offence within 5 years

  • 7-day licence suspension (3-day suspension for commercial drivers). This cannot be appealed.
  • $350 penalty (begins January 2019)
  • You must attend a mandatory education program (for a second occurrence within 10 years)

Third and subsequent offences within 5 years

  • 30-day licence suspension (3-day suspension for commercial drivers). This cannot be appealed.
  • $450 penalty (begins January 2019)
  • You must attend a mandatory treatment program (for third and subsequent offence within 10 years)
  • You will be required to use an ignition interlock device for at least six months (for third and subsequent offence within 10 years)
  • You will need to undergo a mandatory medical evaluation to determine whether you meet the requirements for driving in Ontario (for fourth and subsequent offence within 10 years).

In addition to the penalties above, you will also face a $198 licence reinstatement fee each time your licence is suspended. You may also be charged under the Highway Traffic Act and if convicted, you will face an additional suspension and fine.

Penalties for a BAC Over the Legal Limit, Refuse Testing or Impairment

If you refuse to take a drug or alcohol test, you register a BAC over 0.08 or if a drug recognition evaluator determines that you are impaired, you will face:

  • 90-day licence suspension
  • 7-day vehicle impoundment
  • $550 penalty (begins January 2019)
  • $198 licence reinstatement fee
  • You must attend a mandatory education or treatment program (for second and subsequent occurrences within 10 years)
  • You will be required to use an ignition interlock device for at least 6 months (for third and subsequent occurrences within 10 years)

Additional Penalties if Convicted in Court

If you are a young or novice driver convicted in court for violating the zero tolerance requirements for drugs and/or alcohol, your driver's licence will be suspended again for at least 30 days and you will receive an additional $60-$500 fine.

No matter what age or licence you have, if you are convicted criminally of impaired driving in court, you can face additional fines and jail time, plus:

First offence

  • Licence suspension of at least 1 year
  • You must attend a mandatory education or treatment program
  • Requirement to use an ignition interlock device for at least 1 year
  • You will need to undergo a mandatory medical evaluation to determine whether you meet the requirements for driving in Ontario

Second offence within 10 years

  • Licence suspension of at least 3 years
  • You must attend a mandatory education or treatment program
  • Requirement to use an ignition interlock device for at least 3 years
  • You will need to undergo a mandatory medical evaluation to determine whether you meet the requirements for driving in Ontario

Third or more offence within 10 years

  • Lifetime licence suspension, which may be reduced after 10 years if you meet certain criteria
  • You must attend a mandatory education or treatment program
  • Requirement to use an ignition interlock device for at least 6 years
  • You will need to undergo a mandatory medical evaluation to determine whether you meet the requirements for driving in Ontario

How police detect impaired drivers

Ontario has police officers who are trained to detect impaired drivers and remove them from the road.

Standardized Field Sobriety Test

If a police officer suspects that a driver is impaired by drugs or alcohol, the officer may carry out a roadside standardized field sobriety test. If a driver fails the test, they can be immediately suspended from driving and face criminal impaired driving charges.

Breath Testing

If a police officer suspects that a driver has consumed alcohol, the officer can demand a breath sample at the roadside to determine the individual’s blood alcohol concentration. If a driver fails the test, they can be immediately suspended from driving and face criminal impaired driving charges.

Drug Recognition Evaluation

If an officer has reasonable grounds to believe that a driver is impaired, a drug recognition evaluation may be carried out by a qualified officer at a police station. The test helps determine if the impairment is caused by drugs. If a driver fails the test, they can be immediately suspended from driving and face criminal impaired driving charges.

Oral Fluid Screening Devices

The Government of Canada has proposed legislation that would authorize law enforcement officers, following a legal roadside stop, to demand that a driver provide an oral fluid sample if they reasonably suspect a driver has drugs in their body.

Once police in Ontario have access to federally approved oral screening devices, they will be able to use the device to support roadside testing. Oral fluid tests will also be used to enforce the zero tolerance requirements for young, novice and commercial drivers.

Learn more about Oral Fluid Screening Devices.

Tips to avoid impaired driving

There are simple steps you can take to avoid driving while you're impaired by drugs or alcohol:

  • Have a plan to get home safely. Have a designated driver, use public transit, call a friend or family member for a ride, call a taxi or ride share, or stay overnight.
  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist about side effects related to driving when using prescription medication.
  • Read the information on the package of any prescription drugs or over-the-counter medicine, including allergy and cold remedies.
  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist about how a prescription drug could affect you. Remember that combining drugs and alcohol together can impair your ability to drive more than using either one alone.

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