Impaired Driving: Facts and Consequences

Written By: John McLeish

Impaired driving is a hazardous behaviour that can have devastating consequences. Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a leading cause of motor vehicle accidents, many of which are fatal. Impaired driving has been on the decline over the past few years, but as a personal injury lawyer in Toronto, I can tell you it still happens far, far too often. Research from the Canadian Centre of Substance Abuse shows that over 1/3 of drivers involved in fatal collisions have been drinking. On average, impaired driving takes the lives of 4 Canadians every single day.

Sobering facts and statistics:

  • Summer is the peak season for deaths and injuries among impaired drivers.
  • In 2010, nearly as many drivers were killed after using drugs (34.2%) as drivers who had been drinking (39.1%).
  • Survey data from a 2013 Centre for Addiction and Mental Health Report showed that among young Ontario drivers (grade 10-12), 4% admitted to driving after drinking, and nearly 10% after smoking marijuana.
  • 1/3 of teens believe that driving after smoking marijuana is less dangerous than driving after drinking alcohol.
  • Impaired driving had a startling $20.62 billion dollar impact on the Canadian economy in 2010.
  • Every year, 1,200-1,500 Canadians are killed and 63,000 are injured in alcohol-related crashes.
  • Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for 16- to 25-year-olds; alcohol is a factor in 55% of these collisions.

In Canada, the legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.08%. Drivers above this level are subject to be charged under the Criminal Code. In Ontario, the legal BAC limit is lower, at 0.05%. Drivers with a BAC from 0.05 to 0.08% are therefore also subject to consequences under the Ontario Highway Traffic Act. All drivers in Ontario who are 21 or under must have a BAC level of zero while operating a vehicle.

What is the consequence?

If you are caught with a BAC from 0.05 to 0.08, you will receive an immediate driver’s license suspension. If it is your first offence, your license will be suspended for three days. If it is your second offence within five years, it is an automatic seven-day suspension and you must attend an alcohol-education program. For a third or subsequent offence, your license will automatically be suspended for 30 days. You must also undergo an alcohol-education program and have an ignition interlock device installed in your car for 6 months.

With a BAC above 0.08%, you will receive an immediate 90-day driver’s license suspension and your vehicle will be impounded for 7 days. For your first offence, you will also receive a fine of at least $600. For your second offence, you will receive suspension, fines, and imprisonment of 14 days or more.

License suspension, costly fines and imprisonment are helpful deterrents, but the most severe consequence of impaired driving is death. Crashes involving drivers under the influence of drugs and alcohol are often fatal. Those accidents often don’t just kill the driver; innocent passengers or other drivers and pedestrians are also victims.

The best way to avoid impaired-driving collisions and charges is to avoid driving after consuming any alcohol at all. It is difficult to guess your BAC because it can be influenced by many factors, including body weight, the amount of time that is spent drinking, how much you ate that day, and any medications you are on. If you know you will be drinking, always plan a safe ride home, and never get in the car with a driver who is impaired.

Like distracted driving, driving under the influence is a choice. The right choice is safety for everyone.

Use this tool from Smart Serve Canada to help understand blood alcohol concentration (BAC) and calculate yours:

John McLeish


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