Impaired Driving Laws & Penalties in Canada

What is impaired driving?

If you look to Wikipedia, impaired driving is defined as: 

“having care or the control of a motor vehicle while the person’s ability to operate the motor vehicle is impaired by alcohol or a drug.”

Seems straightforward, doesn’t it? Operating a passenger car, commercial vehicle, motorcycle, or any other machinery while under the influence is considered impaired driving. But what you might not be aware of is that certain penalties can be applied up to two hours after the act of driving.

The Canadian government sets the limit on how much is too much. And since Canada legalized the use of cannabis in 2018, it affected how impaired driving laws are applied in the country. 

What is the safe limit for driving after drinking?

The safe limit for consuming alcoholic beverages and then getting behind the wheel of a vehicle is… none. Even one drink can affect your ability to make the right decisions and snap judgements. 

The enforceable limits are different though, based on the concentration of alcohol in your bloodstream, or blood-alcohol concentration (BAC).

Can I take cannabis and drive?

Pot, weed, marijuana, reefer, the herbal, maryjane – whatever name you call it, cannabis is still a drug. It’s been legalized in Canada but that doesn’t mean it’s free from consequences if you partake. Smoking or consuming cannabis and driving can land you in legal hot water, and a jail cell.

The primary psychoactive component in pot is THC. Consequences vary depending on the concentration in your blood. While it’s prohibited to drive with between two and five nanograms (ng) of THC per ml of blood, the offence is even more serious when it’s above 5ng per ml. 

What about other drugs?

Clearly, the big factors for impaired driving are alcohol and cannabis. However, having any detectable amount of other illegal drugs in your system within two hours of driving is a big no-no. The exception is GHB, a party drug that’s naturally produced in human bodies in very small quantities – over 5mg of GHB per ml of blood is prohibited.

Canada’s penalties for impaired driving

Canada’s Department of Justice has established legal penalties for people convicted of impaired driving. 

  • If convicted of your first offence of alcohol impaired driving at or over .08 within two hours of driving, the mandatory minimum penalty is a $1,000 fine. Fines increase according to BAC with:
    • .08 to .119 dealt a $1,000 fine
    • .120 to .159 commanding a $1,500 fine, and;
    • blowing .160 or higher commanding a minimum $2,000 fine.
  • If convicted of your first offence of drug-impaired driving with more than 5ng of THC or any other prohibited drug in your system within two hours of driving, the mandatory minimum penalty is a $1,000 fine. 
  • The same minimum penalty applies if convicted of driving with more than 2.5ng of THC per ml and a BAC of .05 combined. 
  • For any of the above, a second conviction will net you a mandatory minimum 30 days in prison. 
  • And for a third conviction, offenders will receive a mandatory minimum penalty of 120 days in prison. 
  • The maximum penalty for the above charges is 10 years in prison.

Should you choose not to provide a sample when it’s been requested, there’s a minimum $2,000 fine. 

There are other penalties to consider too. A summary conviction for drug-impaired driving with 2ng of THC per ml of blood, up to 5ng, within two hours of getting behind the wheel will command a $1,000 fine. 

A conviction for impaired driving causing bodily harm has stiff but just penalties. A summary conviction carries a maximum two years in prison less a day while an indictment has a maximum prison term of 14 years.

And if convicted of impaired driving causing death, an indictment carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.