Behaviours – Drugs and Medication

What the Law Says

Driving while impaired by drugs or medication is a dangerous and highly reprehensible behaviour that is severely punished by the Criminal Code and the Highway Safety Code.

The Criminal Code in Brief

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, including 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:

  1. while the person's ability to operate the vehicle […] is impaired by alcohol or a drug; or
  2. 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 impaired by drugs or medication

You could be arrested for driving while impaired by drugs or medication, not only for driving while impaired by alcohol.

You are 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 a breathalyzer or perform physical coordination tests is a criminal offence that automatically results in stiffer penalties.

Useful information
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 in Brief

The Highway Safety Code is a provincial law that applies only in Québec. It sets out administrative measures and penalties that can be imposed at 2 specific times.

Upon arrest – as soon as an offence is committed

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 device (depending on the situation)
  • Program to assess and reduce the risk of impaired driving (depending on the situation) (website in French only)

The SAAQ is responsible for applying these penalties and measures.

Additional details

Impaired driving can only be caused by alcohol or drugs. Wrong!

Don't depend on your blood alcohol concentration to know if you are impaired. Several other factors can come into play. Fatigue, stress or illness may amplify the effects of alcohol, drugs or medication.

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.

Useful information

Do you think you have a trick to avoid detection by peace officers?

You might be surprised by what you learn in our Myths and Facts section!