What is impaired driving?

Impaired driving is the criminal offence of operating, having care or control of a motor vehicle while the person's ability to operate the motor vehicle is impaired by alcohol or a drug.

Additionally, there are legal and administrative blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limits. The maximum legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) for fully licensed drivers is to be under 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood, or a ‘BAC of 0.08 BAC.' Driving with a BAC of 0.08 or over 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.

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

I think someone is driving while impaired. What should I do?

Driving while impaired is a crime in progress. If you suspect someone is driving while impaired, call 9-1-1 at the earliest and safest opportunity. Maintain a safe distance and do not attempt to follow the driver.

What are the signs that someone might be driving while impaired?

According to MADD Canada, ten possible signs of impaired driving are:

  1. Driving unreasonably fast, slow, or at an inconsistent speed
  2. Drifting in and out of lanes
  3. Tailgating and changing lanes frequently
  4. Making exceptionally wide turns
  5. Changing lanes or passing without sufficient clearance
  6. Overshooting or stopping well before stop signs or stop lights
  7. Disregarding signals and lights
  8. Approaching signals or leaving intersections too quickly or slowly
  9. Driving without headlights, failing to lower high beams, or leaving turn signals on
  10. Driving with windows open in cold or inclement weather

How does an officer determine impairment by alcohol?

An officer can arrest for impaired based on an assessment of driving and physical evidence. Officers may also conduct roadside testing to assist in the formation of grounds.

Mandatory Alcohol Screening: Upon conducting a lawful traffic stop, an officer in possession of a roadside screening device may make a valid breath demand and require the driver to participate in a roadside breath test.

Can a police officer ask me to provide a roadside breath sample even if I have not been drinking?

Regardless of whether you have actually been drinking, an officer has the authority to demand a breath sample of any person that is currently driving or occupying the driver's seat of a vehicle. The process of providing a roadside sample also requires that the officer has the device with them. The process of providing a breath sample is brief and will only take a few minutes.

Can I refuse to provide a roadside breath sample?

Refusing a demand for a breath sample is a criminal offence, whether you have been drinking or not. Upon conviction, you could face the same penalties as if you had been driving over the legal BAC limit. In addition to the criminal charge, your licence will be suspended at the side of the road for 90 days and the vehicle you are driving will be impounded for 7 days.

How do police determine if someone is impaired by drugs?

Impaired driving is impaired driving, whether the impairment is by alcohol or by drug.

If an officer has formed the opinion that a driver is impaired by a drug, then an accredited Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) will be called in to determine if the driver is impaired. The DRE test involves a multi-step evaluation which includes:

  • Measuring the driver's blood pressure
  • Pupil size
  • Body temperature
  • Pulse
  • Eye's reaction to light
  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test
  • Vertical Gaze Nystagmus test
  • Divided attention tests

The officer will make a demand for the driver to submit a urine sample. Failing to comply with this demand is also a criminal offence.

What are the 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.

Information about the penalties for impaired driving in Ontario can be found on the Ministry of Transportation website.

Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere (RIDE) Program

The RIDE program serves as a deterrent against drunk driving. RIDE spot checks are conducted year round, with increased frequency during the holidays and long weekends.

What are the impacts of impaired driving?

According to MADD Canada, every day, on average, four (4) Canadians are killed and 175 are injured in impairment-related crashes.

Alternatives to driving while impaired

Plan ahead. Before you head out, know how you are getting home:

  • Have a designated driver
  • Use public transit
  • Call a friend or family member for a ride
  • Use taxi, uber or other ride share service
  • Stay overnight

How does impairment affect one's driving?

If you drive while impaired, you are putting your own life and the life of others at risk.

The effects of impairment on driving include:

  • increased risk-taking
  • speeding
  • recklessness
  • false sense of confidence and being in control
  • difficulty maintaining a constant speed and trajectory
  • decreased attention
  • impaired judgment
  • altered vision and hearing
  • decreased concentration
  • slower reaction times
  • poor physical coordination
  • drowsiness