Impaired Driving in Canada, from a Personal Injury Lawyer's Perspective

Time lapse of a wine or alcohol bar

By: Phil Moreira

Operating a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol or drugs is a criminal offence across Canada and can come with very serious legal consequences, both criminal and civil. Impaired driving is a very serious and very common offence in Canada, and the law has developed over the past decades to reflect the need for deterrence of this conduct

In December 2018, significant changes were made to the Criminal Law in Canada relating to impaired driving offences. Some of the major changes include giving police officers the legal authority to demand roadside screening tests (commonly known as the “ASD” – approved screening device) without a reasonable suspicion that the driver was impaired. Refusing this test can result in a criminal charge. Also, the law has been changed to presume an impaired driving offence where an individual is impaired up to two hours after being behind the wheel.

Criminal Penalties for Impaired Driving

The criminal penalties for impaired driving have also been changed and are now more severe to reflect the law’s design to deter this conduct. The “old law” made it an offence to operate a motor vehicle while blood alcohol concentration was over 80mg of alcohol/100ml of blood. It is now an offence to drive with a concentration of 80mg or above.

For a first offence, with an alcohol concentration between 80-119mg, the minimum fine is $1,000. With a concentration of 120-159mg, the minimum fine is $1,500. For a concentration of over 160mg, the minimum fine is $2,500. There is also a minimum nationwide driving prohibition of one year on any streets, roads, or highways. These penalties apply the same to drug-impaired driving as well.

Often for second and subsequent convictions, there are mandatory jail sentences beginning at 30 days. Significant fines and prolonged driving prohibitions will also form part of the sentence. With a conviction for impaired driving causing bodily harm or death, very significant jail sentences are often imposed in Canada.

Civil Penalties for Impaired Driving

Non-criminal penalties for impaired driving can be very severe as well. Aside from serious criminal repercussions, people convicted of impaired driving often see their insurance premiums skyrocket and at times may have great difficulty obtaining insurance coverage altogether. Further, even if a criminal driving prohibition has expired, the Provincial Department of Motor Vehicles can reserve the right to not license an individual at all. Also, there can be significant immigration consequences with an impaired driving conviction.

Injury from a Car Accident

Not surprisingly, impaired driving can often result in car accidents. While there are certain implications for limiting insurance benefits for the impaired driver themselves when a car accident occurs, generally speaking, a third party who is injured as a result of an impaired driver’s negligence will still have the right to pursue civil action against that driver.

A person who is injured as a result of a car accident due to impaired driving can sue the impaired driver for damages (including pain and suffering, loss of income, loss of earning capacity, loss of valuable services, and cost of care) even while a criminal proceeding against the impaired driver is ongoing.

Being involved in a car accident caused by impaired driving can be frustrating, scary, and even tragic. If you or a loved one has been involved in an impaired driving-related car accident, it is always in your best interest to speak to an experienced personal injury lawyer to best understand your rights and options.


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