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Vehicle Impoundment Program - It's Your Vehicle, Your Responsibility

Under the vehicle impoundment program, all vehicle owners will have a greater responsibility for ensuring that every person driving their vehicle has a valid driver's licence.

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Tough Measures for Suspended and Impaired Drivers

Photo of car being impoundedOntario's Vehicle Impoundment Programs are aimed at making the province's roads safer.

In Ontario, drivers who operate a motor vehicle while under licence suspension can face one of two kinds of impoundment:

  1. Vehicles driven in Ontario by persons apprehended for driving while their licence is suspended for a Criminal Code conviction will be impounded for a minimum of 45 days;
  2. Effective December 1, 2010,  drivers caught driving with a driver’s licence that is already under a specific Highway Traffic Act (HTA) suspension(s) - including default of family support, but not including suspensions for defaulted fines or medical conditions* will have the vehicle they are driving impounded for seven days.

Also effective December 1, 2010: Impoundments for:

  • Drivers required to have a vehicle ignition interlock device and who are caught driving without such a device; and
  • All drivers caught with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) over 0.08 or who fail/refuse to comply with a demand (to provide a breath sample) made by a police officer under the Criminal Code of Canada (CCC).

These are in addition to the existing 7-day impoundment for drivers engaged in a race, stunt or contest on Ontario’s roads.

A series of helpful questions and answers are provided below to help explain how these two kinds of impoundments (Criminal Code and 7-Day) work:

Q&A: Driving While Under Criminal Code Suspension

How does the Vehicle Impoundment Program work for drivers caught operating a vehicle under a suspension for a Criminal Code conviction?

A driver caught driving while his/her licence is suspended for a Criminal Code conviction will be given an impoundment notice (issued by the Registrar of Motor Vehicles) by a police officer. The vehicle will immediately be towed to an impound yard for a minimum of 45 days. The vehicle owner or plate holder must pay the towing and storage costs before the vehicle is released at the end of the impoundment period.

Why was this Criminal Code impoundment program created?

Drivers who continue to drive while their licence has been suspended for a Criminal Code conviction show no regard for the law and put others at risk. In 2009, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation recorded almost 19,000 motor vehicle-related Criminal Code convictions. Most of those convictions were related to drinking and driving. Other convictions included driving while disqualified and fail to remain at the scene of a collision.

Who can have their vehicle impounded?

Any person caught driving while suspended in Ontario for a Criminal Code conviction will have the vehicle he/she is driving impounded. Regardless of whether the vehicle is borrowed from a friend or family member, used for business or employment purposes, rented or leased, the vehicle will be impounded. This program applies to all motor vehicle types including passenger vehicles, motorcycles, trucks and buses.

How much will it cost to get my vehicle back?

Vehicle owners/plate holders are liable for towing and storage costs and can expect to pay up to $1,800 for a 45-day impoundment period. In addition, suspended drivers may face fines ranging from $5,000 to $50,000 if convicted under the Highway Traffic Act for driving under a Criminal Code suspension.

Can I appeal the impoundment?

Yes, a vehicle owner/plate holder can appeal an impoundment on the following grounds:

  • Vehicle was stolen at the time of the impoundment;
  • Driver was not under a Criminal Code suspension;
  • Vehicle owner/plate holder exercised all reasonable efforts (i.e. due diligence) to ensure
    that the driver had a valid driver's licence; or
  • Loss of the vehicle would result in exceptional hardship.

There is a $100 fee to file an appeal. In the event of a successful appeal, any towing and storage costs will be refunded. The filing fee to the License Appeal Tribunal is non-refundable.

What are my responsibilities as a vehicle owner/plate holder?

You are responsible for taking all reasonable steps, depending on your particular situation, to ensure that every person who drives your vehicle has a valid driver's licence. To verify a valid driver's licence through the Ministry of Transportation (MTO):

  • Call 1-900-565-6555 for an automated service. A cost of $2.50 per check will be charged to your phone bill. Please have the driver's licence number ready; or
  • Access MTO's website. Users may check more than one driver's licence number at $2.00 per
    check payable by MasterCard or Visa; or
  • Obtain a driver's abstract at MTO's Driver & Vehicle Licence Issuing Offices ($12.00 per abstract)
    or ServiceOntario kiosks ($13.00 per abstract).

What information is provided by MTO's automated driver licence check services?

The automated telephone and internet services provide information on the validity of a driver's licence as well as a verification number confirming a valid response. A valid response means that the driver's licence is not under suspension, is not expired, or has not been cancelled. Effective December 2002, this verification includes whether a driver has an ignition interlock condition on his or her driver's licence.

Q&A: 7-Day Vehicle Impoundment Programs

What are the 7-Day Vehicle Impoundment Programs?

Under the Road Safety Act, 2009, three new seven-day vehicle impoundments are effective December 1, 2010. These are in addition to the 7-day impoundment for drivers engaged in a race, stunt or contest on Ontario’s roads and include:

  1. Drivers caught driving with a driver’s licence that is already under specific HTA suspension(s) - including those related to default of family support, failure to complete remedial measures, “warn range” (0.05 – 0.08 Blood Alcohol Concentration), Novice Driver Escalating Sanctions Program, demerit point accumulations, and careless driving - but not including suspensions for defaulted fines or medical conditions;
  2. Drivers required to have a vehicle ignition interlock device and are found driving without such a device; and
  3. Drivers with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) over .08 (or who fail/refuse to comply with a demand made by a police officer under S. 254 of the Criminal Code)

Who can have their vehicle impounded?

Vehicle impoundment will apply to drivers suspended under Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act and its regulations. Drivers licensed in Ontario, unlicensed drivers, and drivers who are licensed by an out-of-province jurisdiction and are suspended from driving in Ontario are subject to impoundment.

Similarly, vehicle impoundment will apply to drivers with an ignition interlock condition under Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act and its regulations.

All drivers, regardless of licensing jurisdiction or status are subject to impoundment under the new legislation if they are caught driving with a BAC over 80 mg or refuse to comply with a demand made by an officer under the Criminal Code.

Why is the government introducing these new impoundments?

There is a growing problem of suspended drivers who are continuing to drive. Based on a review of Ontario data, it was determined that approximately 2,000 fatal and injury crashes occur each year involving unlicensed drivers (unlicensed being expired, never licensed, or suspended/revoked).  

A 2005 U.S. study estimated that as many as three-quarters of suspended and revoked drivers continue to drive. Although they apparently drive less often, they are overrepresented in subsequent violations and are greatly overrepresented in fatal crashes.

Do these 7-day vehicle impoundments create additional revenue for the government?

Vehicle impoundment is an added sanction to the existing penalties. Payments for the associated costs (towing and storage) are not paid to the government.

It is estimated that as many as three-quarters of suspended drivers continue to drive. These drivers are much more likely to be involved in hit and run collisions.

Drivers suspended for reasons other than Criminal Code-related offences are five times more likely to attempt to flee the scene of a crash.  Research also shows that drivers suspended for driving-related reasons are about two times more likely to violate driving laws than drivers with non-driving related suspensions.

How do these 7-day vehicle impoundments work?

Once the police officer has established that the vehicle is subject to impoundment the driver will be given an impoundment notice by the officer. The vehicle will then be immediately towed to an impound yard for 7 days. The vehicle owner must pay the towing and storage costs before the vehicle is released.

What is the exact process to get a vehicle out of impound?

These impoundments take place under police authority and they are not reported to MTO.  As such, MTO is not involved in the release process.  The way in which impounded vehicles will be released may vary among police services.  It is important for drivers and vehicle owners to get release information and instructions from the police officer or police service that impounded the motor vehicle..

What are my responsibilities as a vehicle owner?

Even if the driver is not the vehicle owner, the vehicle will be impounded.  If the driver is not the vehicle owner, the vehicle owner is notified by police and must pay all towing and storage fees to get their vehicle back at the end of the seven-day impoundment period.  The vehicle owner may attempt to recover these costs from the driver through the courts.  Our message is clear: if you are going to lend your vehicle to anyone, make sure they have a valid licence.

You are responsible for taking all reasonable steps, depending on your particular situation, to ensure that every person who drives your vehicle has a valid driver's licence. To verify a valid driver’s licence through the Ministry of Transportation (MTO):

  • Call 1-900-565-6555 for an automated service. A cost of $2.50 per check will be charged to your phone bill. Please have the driver’s licence number ready; or
  • Access MTO’s website. Users may check more than one driver’s licence number at $2.00 per check payable by Mastercard or Visa; or
  • Obtain a driver’s abstract at MTO's Driver & Vehicle Licence Issuing Offices or ServiceOntario kiosks. The fee is $12 per abstract.

Both the automated telephone and web service will provide a response of “valid – ignition interlock require” if the driver requires an approved ignition interlock device to legally operate a motor vehicle.  A driver’s abstract will also indicate if the driver is subject to an ignition interlock condition for driving.

Why is the impoundment period for 7 days?

Seven days is long enough to remove the immediate danger to other road users posed by these dangerous driving behaviours.  In addition, it is sufficient time for the driver to consider the consequences of their actions.

Can drivers appeal these 7-day vehicle impoundments?

Ontario’s three new vehicle impoundment programs are comparatively short in length and therefore do not have an appeals process. This is also the case for Ontario’s seven-day street racing impoundments.

What is the alternate program for commercial vehicles under the new 7-day vehicle impoundments?

Good carriers check the licence status of their drivers regularly. However, if a licence status changes between checks, and the driver is caught, a carrier will face significant financial and operational burdens with a 7-day vehicle impoundment.

To address this concern, the ministry has introduced an alternate program for larger commercial vehicles. Under this program, if the operator of a commercial vehicle is caught driving under an HTA-related suspension, including default of family support, the vehicle will not be subject to a 7-day impoundment if the driver has been suspended for less than 100 days.

This provides a reasonable time for carriers to conduct regular quarterly licence checks on their drivers. All drivers will continue to be subject to existing sanctions (i.e. driving while under licence suspension) regardless of whether the vehicle is impounded. 

The alternate program is limited in scope. Commercial vehicles will be subject to the 7-day impoundment under the following circumstances:

  • The driver’s licence has been suspended for 100 days or more;
  • The driver has a blood alcohol level over .08; or,
  • The driver is in violation of an ignition interlock requirement.

Regardless of whether the commercial vehicle is impounded, any driver operating under a licence suspension will not be permitted to continue their trip and will face additional sanctions (i.e. driving while under licence suspension).  

Why is there an impound alternative for large commercial vehicles?

Carrier-related impound expenses can be much higher than those incurred by smaller vehicles. Typical towing and impoundment costs for these larger vehicles can run between $1,200 and $1,500. As well, there are logistical challenges and costs associated with sending a new driver and vehicle to complete the trip (only the motor vehicle is impounded, trailers may continue the trip).

There are also potential costs associated with replacing perishable cargo and equipment delayed by impoundment (e.g., livestock, cement mixer drum if concrete hardens), and the prospect of stranding passengers in the case of a bus impoundment.