Driving while impaired by alcohol, drugs or medication is a dangerous behaviour that is severely punished under the Criminal Code and the Highway Safety Code.
The Criminal Code is a federal law that applies in all Canadian provinces and territories. It sets out the rules and penalties that apply in the event of driving offences involving alcohol, drugs and medication: prison time, fines, driving prohibition periods, etc.
At any time when you are driving a vehicle, a police officer can order you to blow into an approved screening device or, if he or she suspects you have consumed alcohol, submit you to roadside physical coordination tests. Based on the results, the police officer may arrest you and take you to the police station in order to measure your blood alcohol concentration using a breathalyzer. If your blood alcohol concentration is equal to or over 80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood (0.08), you could face Criminal Code charges.
If a police officer suspects that you have consumed drugs or certain medications, you may be required to submit to physical coordination tests or take a saliva test. These tests are enough for the police officer to place you under arrest and require that you provide a blood sample.
For example, if your blood sample contains a concentration of cannabis (THC) that is equal to or above the concentration prescribed by federal regulation, you could face Criminal Code charges. The prescribed blood drug concentrations for cannabis are as follows:
For all other federally controlled drugs, any detectable trace at all is enough to face charges, with the exception of GHB.
Regardless of how much you have consumed, if a police officer has reasonable grounds to believe that you are impaired by alcohol or drugs (including medication) or a combination of alcohol and a drug, he or she can place you under arrest without having you take any tests. This means that even if your blood alcohol concentration is below 80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood, you could be committing an offence.
If a police officer suspects that you have consumed alcohol, drugs or medication, you may be required to submit to physical coordination tests, to blow into an alcohol screening device or to take a saliva test. At any time when you are driving a vehicle, a police officer can order you to blow into an approved screening device.
These tests are enough for the police officer to place you under arrest and bring you to the police station in order to have you undergo another series of tests by an evaluating officer. The evaluating officer may measure your blood alcohol concentration using a breathalyzer, if you are suspected of having consumed alcohol. If the evaluating officer concludes that your ability to drive was impaired, you could face Criminal Code charges.
Refusing to submit to the tests ordered by a police officer is a criminal offence that automatically results in the stiffest penalties.
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 driving while impaired:
The police officer will assess whether it was possible for the person to drive the vehicle and whether he or she intended to drive.
The Highway Safety Code is a provincial law that applies only in Québec. It sets out administrative measures and penalties that can be imposed for impaired driving.
Last update: April 5, 2021