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Impaired Driving Law Changes 2018

With the legalization of recreational marijuana, it is essential that impaired driving Canada laws be reformed.  Traffic laws must align with the implications of the legalization of marijuana, which means trying to create appropriate penalties for driving while under the influence of drugs and alcohol.  

The Highway Traffic Act which regulates, administers and classifies traffic related licensing, transport, and offences currently has impaired driving laws in place. However, implementing new changes to it is not easy.

In Canada, Bill C-46, an act to amend the Criminal Code of Canada and impaired driving laws, contains proposals targeted at setting driving limits for cannabis, improved roadside testing, and implementing stricter penalties to create a legal structure. On a provincial level, Ontario is also looking to change impaired driving laws to ensure the safety of its roads. To this end, the proposed measures are stricter.

What are these proposed changes? What can you expect as a driver? We take a look at the main changes being proposed in Canada and Ontario.

Proposed Impaired Driving Canada Law Changes

 The proposed changes to impaired driving laws for 2018 are aimed at putting a legal framework for drug-impaired driving in place before legalization occurs and that the Criminal Code is amended to discourage drug-impaired and alcohol-impaired driving.  

Roadside Testing Procedure and Assessment

To help police and court officials with the investigation, trial procedures, and proof of BAC, the new legislation will authorize mandatory roadside alcohol screening tests.  

For cases in which officers suspect drug-impaired driving, the police could demand a roadside oral fluid sample. Police would also have the option to conduct a Drug Recognition Evaluation (DRE) on top of a Standardized Field Sobriety Test, if needed. Police can demand a blood sample, as well. The new measures are intended to determine if you have THC in your body before the drug leaves your system. In court, this means expert witnesses and toxicologists would not be needed, making the judicial process more efficient.  

For suspected alcohol-impaired driving, the government is looking to strengthen existing laws.

The police can ask any anyone who is lawfully-stopped on the road to provide a breath sample, even without the suspicion of alcohol.

Drivers who refuse to provide a sample for a roadside test face a $550 fine under the proposed law. If you are a first offender and refuse a test, you would be  required to pay a minimum fine of $2,000.

Legal Limits – Drug and Alcohol

The proposed legislation would establish three new offences for having specific levels of drugs in your blood within two hours of driving. In general, this new categorization allows for stricter, more well-defined laws, and increased minimum fines and maximum penalties. The penalties, themselves, depend on a few things: the drug, the levels of drug found in your system, or the combination of alcohol and drugs.

The proposed legal THC levels are:

  • 2 ng but less than 5 ng per ml of blood (summary conviction offences)
  • 5 ng or more per ml of blood (drug-only hybrid offences)
  • 2.5 ng or more per ml of blood +  50 mg or more of alcohol per 100 ml of blood (drugs-with-alcohol hybrid offences)

Right now across Canada, the legal BAC level for fully licensed drivers is 80 mg of alcohol in 100 ml of blood, or 0.08. If your BAC is between 0.05 and 0.08, you are in the “warn range,” which also comes with penalties. With the proposed legislation, blood alcohol levels within two hours of driving will also split into three tiers of offences:

  • 80 to 119 mg
  • 120 to 159 mg
  • 160 mg or more

Note that the results you get on a screening device would not automatically lead to a charge, but only to further investigation. This also includes any tests on  approved devices at the police station.

Impaired Driving Canada Laws – Penalties

If you are found guilty of being under the influence of either drugs or alcohol, however, you would face harsher impaired-driving penalties under the new proposed Federal legislation changes.

For drug-impaired driving, the new legislation will implement the following penalties:

  • 2 ng to 5 ng of THC per 1 ml of blood:  
    • maximum $1000 fine
  • 5 ng or more of THC per 1 ml of blood:  
    • First offence: $1000 (minimum)
    • Second offence: 30-day imprisonment  
    • Third/subsequent offence: 120-day imprisonment
  • 2.5 ng or more of THC per 1 ml of blood + 50 mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood:
    • First offence: $1000 (minimum)
    • Second offence: 30-day imprisonment  
    • Third/subsequent offence: 120-day imprisonment

Under the proposed changes, the severity of the penalties for alcohol-impaired driving would increase, if you are charged.

Alcohol-impaired driving that does not cause bodily harm or death would carry both minimum and  maximum sentences. For first offenders, the minimum penalties would be:

  • 80 to 119 mg blood-alcohol content: $1,000
  • 120 to 159 mg blood-alcohol content: $1,500
  • 160 mg or more blood-alcohol content: $2,000 

Refusal to be tested on a first offence would result in a  $2000 fine. A second offence would still result in 30 days in prison, and a third and subsequent offences would result in 120 days. The maximum penalties would be 2 years less a day (summary conviction) and 10 years (indictment).

If alcohol-impaired driving offence caused bodily harm, the charges could be deemed as a hybrid offence. Under the proposed changes, alcohol-impaired driving that causes bodily harm or death would not carry a mandatory minimum penalty if you are convicted. However, the mandatory maximum penalties from those charges would be either 2 years less a day (summary conviction) or 14 years (indictment).

Alcohol-impaired driving that caused a death would mean a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

After July 1, 2018, Ontario will have a zero tolerance law on alcohol and drugs for drivers under 21 and novice drivers with G1, G2, M1 or M2 class licenses. They will be prohibited from having any cannabis in their system when driving or behind the wheel. Also, they cannot have any other drugs in their system that are detectable by oral fluid screening devices. Note that if novice drivers have had their licenses suspended three times for violating zero tolerance laws, their licences will be cancelled and will need to take all the mandatory driving tests again.

In Ontario, posting a BAC result in the “warn” range (0.05-0.08), failing an SFST or  violating zero tolerance rule all carry the same penalties.  For the first offence, you get a licence suspension for 3 days and, beginning January 2019, a $250 fine.

For a second offence in a 5 year period, it would mean a 7-day license suspension, a $350 fine (starting January 2019), and enrolment in education programs for a second occurrence within 10 years.

For a third and subsequent offences in 5 years, penalties include a 30-day licence suspension, a mandatory treatment program (for third and subsequent occurrences within 10 years), the use of an ignition interlock device for six months (for third and subsequent occurrences in 10 years), a $450 penalty (starting from January 2019) and a mandatory medical evaluation.

Right now, commercial drivers in Ontario follow the same restrictions for drug and alcohol impaired driving as other fully licensed G-class drivers. However, from July 1, 2018 and onwards, commercial drivers will specifically be restricted from having any alcohol or cannabis (as well as other drugs) in their system when behind the wheel of any vehicle needing an A-F class license.

If you refuse to take a drug or alcohol test, register a BAC over 0.08 or if a drug recognition evaluator determines that you are impaired, Ontario drivers will face a number of increased penalties:

  • Your licence will be suspended for 90 days
  • Your vehicle will be impounded for 7 days
  • You will have to pay a mandatory $550 penalty (starting January 2019)
  • You will be need to complete a mandatory education or treatment program (for second and subsequent offences within a 10-year period)
  • You will be required to use an ignition interlock device for at least a 6-month period (for third and subsequent occurrences within 10 years)

Other Changes

Enrolment in a provincial ignition interlock program would also change. To start, there would be no wait time for a first offence. For a second and third offence, it would be a three-month and a six-month wait respectively.


As you can see, the new measures help to not only discourage impaired driving, but to also eliminate defence strategies that make it harder to enforce drinking and driving laws. Thus, if you have questions on fighting charges laid against you, our OMQ Law offices in Toronto, London, Oakville can help you make sense of them. Consult with one of our lawyers today for a free case assessment and know what you are up against.