Driving while impaired by alcohol is a dangerous behaviour that is severely punished. In Québec, both the Highway Safety Code and the Criminal Code apply.
The Criminal Code
The Criminal Code is a federal law that applies in all Canadian provinces and territories. It sets out the provisions and penalties related to impaired driving (prison time, fines, driving prohibition periods, etc.).
“Every one commits an offence who operates a motor vehicle […] or has the care or control of a motor vehicle […], whether it is in motion or not:
while the person’s ability to operate the vehicle […] is impaired by alcohol or a drug; or
having consumed alcohol in such a quantity that the concentration in the person’s blood exceeds eighty milligrams of alcohol in one hundred millilitres of blood.
For greater certainty, the reference to impairment by alcohol or a drug includes impairment by a combination of alcohol and a drug.”
Under the Criminal Code, you could be arrested and convicted if:
You are over the legal limit of 80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood (0.08)
Blood alcohol concentration is measured in milligrams using a calibrated screening device (often called a breathalyzer).
Your ability to drive is impaired by alcohol or drugs
If a police officer has doubts regarding your ability to drive, he or she can have you perform physical coordination tests (balance, walking and eye movement tests) or ask you to blow into a breathalyzer, for example.
These tests are enough to place you under arrest. If required, a drug recognition expert could have you undergo a series of more extensive tests at the police station.
You refuse to obey the orders of a peace officer
Refusing to blow into the breathalyzer or perform physical coordination tests is a criminal offence.
Care or control of a vehicle
The law not only prohibits impaired driving, but also having the care or control of a vehicle while impaired. Here are some situations that can have the same consequences as impaired driving:
sitting in the driver’s seat, even if the vehicle is stopped or broken down
being in the vehicle (even asleep on the back seat) and having the possibility of starting the engine
being near the vehicle, for example to brush snow off the car or put things in the trunk
The Highway Safety Code
The Highway Safety Code is a provincial law that applies only in Québec. It sets out administrative measures and penalties for drinking and driving.
After the trial – if you are convicted under the Criminal Code
Revocation of your driver's licence or your right to obtain one
Obligation to drive a vehicle equipped with an alcohol ignition interlock deviceA device that prevents a vehicle from starting when it detects the presence of alcohol in the driver’s body. (depending on the situation)
The SAAQ is responsible for applying these penalties and measures.
Impaired driving can begin before 0.08
Do not rely on your blood alcohol concentration to know whether you are impaired. Several other factors can come into play. Fatigue, stress or illness may amplify the effects of alcohol, drugs or medication.
You can therefore be arrested for impaired driving even if your blood alcohol concentration is below 0.08.
Police powers: officers are trained and able to detect impaired driving
If a police officer has doubts regarding a person’s ability to drive, he or she can have the driver undergo a series of tests, known as physical coordination tests (balance, walking and other tests) or have the driver blow into a breathalyzer, for example.
These tests are enough to place a driver under arrest.
A police officer may have sufficient grounds to place a driver under arrest for impaired driving simply by observing his or her behaviour.
The zero alcohol rule applies…
To drivers under age 22, learner drivers and holders of a probationary licence
Prohibition from registering, acquiring, renting or leasing a vehicle, or putting a vehicle into operation under your name
Alcohol ignition interlock deviceA device that prevents a vehicle from starting when it detects the presence of alcohol in the driver’s body.: mandatory for life
Under the Criminal Code
Driving prohibition for 1 year
If the accident caused injury or death: prison
Costs related to a 3rd offence
$3,200 minimum + alcohol ignition interlock deviceA device that prevents a vehicle from starting when it detects the presence of alcohol in the driver’s body. for life (minimum $1,360 + $100/month), in addition to non-quantifiable inconveniences and variable costs, such as:
increased automobile insurance premiums
other costs such as registry fees or contribution to the crime victim's compensation plan (IVAC), etc.