Behaviours – Drugs and Medication

What the Law Says

Driving while impaired by alcohol, drugs or medication is a dangerous 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 rules and penalties that apply in the event of an alcohol- or drug-related driving offence: prison time, fines, driving prohibition periods, etc.

Under the Criminal Code, you could be arrested and convicted if:

Your blood alcohol concentration is over 80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood (0.08)

If a police officer suspects that you have consumed alcohol, you may be required to blow into an alcohol screening device or submit 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.

Your ability to drive is impaired by alcohol, drugs or medication

If a police officer suspects that you have consumed alcohol, drugs or medication, you may be required to submit to physical coordination tests or to blow into an alcohol 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.

You have drugs in your blood

If a police officer suspects that you have consumed drugs, you may be required to submit to physical coordination tests. These tests are enough for the police officer to place you under arrest and require that you provide a blood sample.

If your blood sample contains a concentration of cannabis (THC), for example, that is above the concentration prescribed by federal regulation, you could face Criminal Code charges. The prescribed blood drug concentrations for cannabis are as follows:

  • 2 nanograms of THC per millilitre of blood
  • 5 nanograms of THC per millilitre of blood
  • 2.5 nanograms of THC per millilitre of blood, combined with a blood alcohol concentration equal to or over 50 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood

For all other drugs, any detectable trace at all is enough to face charges.

You refuse to obey the orders of a peace officer

Refusing to submit to the tests conducted by a police officer is a criminal offence. Should you commit such an offence, you will automatically be imposed the stiffest penalties allowed by law.

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!