The Basics of Impaired Driving

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Did you know that you can still be guilty of impaired driving even if you’re below the legal limit for alcohol or cannabis? If your ability to drive is impairedby any drugs or alcohol, then you may be committing a crime.

This article explains the basics of impaired driving and will direct you to our in-depth articles on each topic.

Impaired driving in a nutshell

Impaired driving means operating a motor vehicle while impaired by drugs or alcohol or while over the legal limit for drugs or alcohol.

There are a few important things to understand in this definition.

Impairment

This means that your ability to drive has been affected by alcohol, any drug, or even fatigue. Since each person is different, it’s possible to be impaired even if you are below the legal limits.

Operating a motor vehicle

Operating can mean more than just driving. It can mean simply using your car for other things. For example, sitting in your passenger seat listening to the radio while you sober up or even sleeping in the rear seat

The legal limits

These limits are abstract and difficult to translate to real-world situations. As soon as you are caught above the legal limit, the law says that you are guilty even if you do not feel impaired! These limits are:

  • Alcohol: 0.80mg alcohol per 100ml of blood
  • Cannabis: 5ng THC per 1ml of blood.

In addition, if you have consumed both alcohol and cannabis, the legal limits are lower:

  • Alcohol: 0.05mg alcohol per 100ml of blood
  • Cannabis: 2.5ng THC per 1ml of blood.

It’s difficult to give any practical tips about how much you can consume before it becomes illegal to drive. Each person is affected differently. When in doubt, it’s best not to drive.

THC is the active mind-altering compound in cannabis!

The two-hour rule

It’s illegal to be impaired or over the legal limit within two hours of operating a car. The police can order you to provide a breath sample up to two hours after you have operated a car.

Want to know more? Read our in-depth article on impaired driving.

Police interactions

The police have the power to pull you over in order to check your car and whether you have consumed drugs or alcohol. The police do not need a reason to pull you over. This means that you can be pulled over even if you broke no traffic laws.

Once you have been pulled over, the police have the power to order you to provide a breath sample to test for alcohol. They do not need to have a reason to suspect that you have consumed alcohol.

The police can also order you to provide a saliva sample to test for drugs. Unlike alcohol, the police must have a reason to suspect that you have consumed drugs before doing so.

If the police have reason to believe you are impaired by either alcohol or drugs, they can detain you to obtain more accurate blood or breath samples.

Refusing an order to provide a breath or saliva sample is a crime and has the same serious consequences as driving impaired.

Want to know more? Read our in-depth article about roadside interactions with the police.

The Consequences for Impaired Driving

The consequences for impaired driving can be very serious. For a first offence, the punishment is:

  • $1000 minimum fine
  • 12-month driving ban
  • up to 10 years in jail.

The penalties increase significantly for repeat offenses.

Want to know more? Read our article about the consequences of impaired driving.

Restricted licences and getting your license back  

In addition to any criminal penalties, your license will be automatically suspended for 90 days if you are caught driving over the legal limit for alcohol or if the police believe you are impaired by cannabis.

In some cases, you can apply for a restricted license before the suspension ends. For example, if you rely on using a car for your job, you could apply for a restricted license.

Want to know more? Read our in-depth article about impaired driving and licenses.