Canada: Lethal Libations – Driving Under The Influence

Last Updated: September 6 2016
Article by Adam Wagman

A car is not inherently dangerous, but in the hands of someone who is impaired, it is a lethal weapon. Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs adversely affects judgment, vision, hand-eye coordination, reflexes, and the ability to focus and recognize hazardous road conditions or dangerous situations.

With a recent study showing that Canada ranks No. 1 among 19 first-world countries for percentage of roadway deaths linked to impairment, it is imperative that we revisit the law related to impaired driving, the consequences of impaired driving, and safety recommendations.

The Law

Canada's Criminal Code1 states that it is an offence to operate a motor vehicle, or have care or control of a motor vehicle, whether it is in motion or not, if a person's ability to operate the vehicle is impaired by alcohol or a drug. The amount of alcohol in your body is measured by blood alcohol concentration (BAC). It is prohibited for a driver to have a BAC of more than eighty (80) milligrams of alcohol in one hundred (100) milligrams of blood (0.08 – also known as the "legal limit").2

However, in Ontario, a driver's BAC does not need to exceed the legal limit to result in serious consequences. If a driver's BAC measures between 0.05 and 0.08 (also known as the "warn range"), they may face an administrative driver's licence suspension3. Novice and young drivers (under 21 years old) must maintain a BAC of zero while operating a car.4

The Criminal Code clarifies that impairment also includes impairment by a combination of alcohol and a drug or drugs.5 These drugs include illegal narcotics and prescription or over-the-counter medication.


The consequences for violating Section 253 of the Criminal Code, are contingent upon the nature and severity of the violation:

BAC in the Warn Range (0.05 – 0.08)

  • First Offence: 3-day roadside driver's licence suspension; $180.00 fine;
  • Second Offence (within five years): 7-day roadside driver's licence suspension; mandatory alcohol education program; $180.00 fine; or
  • Third+ Offence(s) (within five years): 30-day roadside driver's licence suspension; mandatory alcohol education program; 6-month ignition lock (breathalyzer activated ignition); $180.00 fine.

BAC Over the Legal Limit (0.08+) or Refusal of Drug or Alcohol Test

  • 90-day roadside driver's licence suspension;
  • $180.00 fine; and
  • Seven-day vehicle impoundment.

Impaired Driving Conviction

  • First Offence: 1-year driver's licence suspension; mandatory alcohol education or treatment program; 1-year minimum ignition lock; no minimum jail sentence; $1,000.00 fine;
  • Second Offence: 3-year driver's licence suspension; mandatory alcohol education or treatment program; 3-year minimum ignition lock; 30-day minimum jail sentence; monetary fine at the discretion of a judge; or
  • Third+ Offence(s): Lifetime driver's licence suspension; mandatory alcohol education or treatment program; lifetime minimum ignition lock; 120-day minimum jail sentence; monetary fine at the discretion of a judge.

Safety Recommendations

Although the law essentially permits a BAC of less than 0.05, we recommend that you do not consume any alcohol or drugs that have adverse side and follow these recommendations:

  • Ensure that you have a plan to get to and from your destination safely;
  • Do not accept a ride from someone whom you suspect may be impaired;
  •  When taking prescription medication, ask your doctor or pharmacist about side effects which could impair your ability to drive;
  •   Be sure to ask your doctor or pharmacist about the effects of combining any prescription or over-the-counter mediation; and
  • For prescription and over-the-counter medication, thoroughly read the accompanying information and instructions (this includes allergy and cold medication).

In the event of a personal injury, you could face further fines, demerit points, and jail time in addition to the potential suspension of your driver's licence.

With the invention of smartphones and various ride service apps making alternate arrangements has never been easier. There really is no excuse for drinking or doping and driving.


1 Section 253(1) of Canada's Criminal Code, R.S.C. 1985, c. C-46, as amended

2 Section 253(1)(b) of Canada's Criminal Code, R.S.C. 1985, c. C-46, as amended

3 Section 48 of the Highway Traffic Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8, as amended

4 Section 44.1 of the Highway Traffic Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8, as amended

5 Section 253(2) of Canada's Criminal Code, R.S.C. 1985, c. C-46, as amended

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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