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What You Need To Know About Impaired Driving

If you are caught driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol in the province of Ontario, you will be subjected to some of the toughest laws in North America.  Ontario takes great pride in its initiatives to reduce impaired driving.  In 2015, according to Statistics Canada, Ontario reported some of the lowest numbers of alcohol-impaired driving rates nationwide and reported the absolute lowest numbers of all provinces for drug-impaired driving.  While Ontario’s approach has been effective in achieving these goals, finding yourself on the wrong side of it can be terrible and life-changing.

In Ontario, as in all other provinces, those charged with impaired driving are subject to punishment under the Criminal Code of Canada. Under the Criminal Code, the consequences for impaired driving are serious. If charged with impaired driving you may be subjected to one or more of the following:

  • lose your licence;
  • have your vehicle impounded;
  • need to pay an administrative fine;
  • need to attend an education or treatment program;
  • be fined upon conviction;
  • be required to install an ignition interlock device in your vehicle;
  • spend time in jail; or
  • end up with a criminal record

What constitutes “impaired”?

In order to properly protect yourself from an impaired driving charge, it is important to understand exactly what that means.  Impaired driving refers to two different charges under section 253 (1)(a) & 253(1)(b) of the Criminal Code.  Section 253(1)(a) prohibits operating a vehicle, vessel, aircraft or railway equipment impaired by alcohol or a drug, while 253(1)(b) criminalizes having a blood concentration of over 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood.  Section 253(2) of the Code notes that for 253(1)(a), impaired includes by either alcohol or a drug, or a combination of both.  While over 80 is indicated by a scientific test, impaired on its own may be determined by physical observation of factors not limited to: swaying, unsteadiness, bloodshot or glossy eyes, or slurred speech.

It important to understand how your level of intoxication is determined, and what factors may affect it.  Blood Alcohol Concentration or BAC, is the measurement for the alcohol levels in your blood used to determine your level of intoxication.  BAC is determined either through a blood test or a breathalyzer, the latter being the most common.  BAC can be affected by many different individual factors.  These include gender, weight, quantity of food recently consumed, and how quickly you drank.  While one drink may not impair a 230lb man, it may impair a 115lb woman.  This means that the idea of “one drink and I’m fine to drive” is not always accurate.

As noted above, the legal BAC limit as per the Criminal Code is 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 milliliters of blood, or in more recognizable terms simply 0.08.  Anyone caught driving with a BAC over 0.08 is guilty of a criminal offence.  In keeping with the stricter laws in Ontario, the province, imposes rules that cover the BAC range of 0.05 to 0.08, referred to as the “warn range.” If you are caught driving with a BAC that is within the warn range, you can be subjected to provincial penalties.  For a first-time offence, this means a 3-day roadside licence suspension and a $198 administrative monetary penalty.

Ontario also has the Zero BAC law.  This law applies to drivers who possess any licence lower than a full G or M licence, referred to as novice drivers, and any driver under 21 years of age.  Simply put, if you are in either category, you cannot have any alcohol and drive.  Violation of this law will result in an on the spot 24 hour licence suspension.  A conviction can lead to a licence suspension for at least 30 days, and a $60 to $500 fine.  A novice driver can face a licence cancellation, having to retake all driving tests.

What happens if you are charged with impaired driving?

Depending on the severity of your impaired driving charge, there are various penalties prescribed by the Criminal Code as described above. One thing you can be certain of with an impaired driving charge is a roadside licence suspension.  You will likely be ordered to attend mandatory education or treatment programs and may even have to install an ignition interlock device to your vehicle.  An ignition interlock requires that the driver pass a breathalyzer test before starting the car, every time it is turned on.  The opportunity to install a breathalyzer machine is a benefit provided to first-time offenders only as part of the Ignition Interlock Conduct Review Program designed to get people back to driving independence in a shorter period of time.

Should you hire a Toronto criminal lawyer and fight the charge?

If you are charged with impaired driving, it is in your best interest to obtain legal advice on how to proceed.  Impaired cases are unique to themselves.  Not only are the cases highly technically complex, but so are the defences.  Having legal counsel familiar with potential defences as well as the relevant caselaw is necessary.  If you decide to simply plead guilty, without consulting a lawyer, you may be giving up various legal defences.

The Highway Traffic Act also contains provisions that automatically suspend licences post-conviction and in some cases that suspension is longer than the criminal code prohibition.   A criminal lawyer can review and explain these consequences to you.

Technical knowledge is required to analyze the different types of breathalyzer machines used.  Machines used for roadside samples and those used in police stations are different.  Each of these machines must be calibrated correctly, and have specific diagnostics run to ensure they are functioning.  Understanding how to request the right information and analyze it is no easy task and may involve your lawyer also hiring a toxicologist.

A lawyer will be able to assist you in understanding the case, increasing your chances of reducing the charge, avoiding a criminal record, and getting you back driving faster than if you were self-represented.  Having a skilled criminal lawyer represent you is always the greatest way to ensure the best result possible.  Depending on the facts and with the right lawyer, impaired cases are winnable.  Charges can be reduced or dismissed for unreasonable delay, Charter rights violations, and issues with roadside device calibration.  Sometimes, it is possible to resolved impaired driving offences for pleas to Highway Traffic Act offences such as careless driving, resulting in far less serious penalties.  Visit our drinking and drinking successes page to learn more.

Impaired driving is an offence that is taken very seriously in Ontario. An impaired driving conviction can have devastating consequences on your life going forward.  It can impact not only the foreseeable, such as your ability to commute to work in your own vehicle, but also other areas of your life, such as travel to other countries.  If you are charged with impaired driving, contact a Toronto criminal lawyer as soon as possible in order to give yourself the best chance at a strong defence.

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