Modes of Transportation – In an Automobile

Don't Drive if You Have Taken Drugs or Medication!

If you get behind the wheel while impaired by drugs or by some types of medication that affects your ability to drive, you are putting your life and the lives of others at risk, in addition to exposing yourself to stiff penalties.

There are no harmless drugs

All drugs, from cannabis to cocaine, act on the brain and hinder your ability to drive, even if you have the impression that you can no longer feel the effects of the drug you used.

Getting behind the wheel while impaired by drugs or by any medication that affects your ability to drive

Below are some of the possible legal consequences of driving while impaired. This is an overview and the penalties may vary based on the number of offences, among other things.

First offence

Penalties

Highway Safety Code Criminal Code

Upon arrest
  • Immediate licence suspension: 24 hours or 90 days (depending on the situation)
  • Immediate vehicle seizure and impoundment: 30 days (depending on the situation)

Following a criminal conviction
  • Prohibition from driving for a minimum one-year period
  • Licence revocation: 1 or 3 years (depending on the situation) or longer (depending on the decision of the court)
  • Program to assess and reduce the risk of impaired driving (depending on the situation) (website in French only)
  • Alcofrein program (depending on the situation)
  • Mandatory alcohol ignition interlock device (variable duration, depending on the situation)
  • Criminal record
  • Mandatory minimum fine of $1,000
  • Prohibition from driving for a minimum one-year period

In the case of a repeat offence within a period of 10 years, the penalties under the Highway Safety Code and the Criminal Code include:

  • Upon arrest
  • Following a criminal conviction
    • Program to assess and reduce the risk of impaired driving (depending on the situation) (website in French only)
    • Prohibition from driving for a minimum two-year period 
    • Licence revocation: 3 or 5 years (depending on the situation) or longer (depending on the decision of the court) 
    • Imprisonment
    • Prohibition from registering, acquiring, renting or leasing a vehicle, or putting a vehicle into operation under your name (depending on the situation)
    • Alcohol ignition interlock device for life (possibility of applying for its removal after 10 years only in the case of a first repeat offence)(depending on the situation)

In the case of a second or subsequent repeat offence within a period of 10 years, the penalties under the Highway Safety Code and the Criminal Code include:

  • Upon arrest
    • Immediate licence suspension: 90 days
    • Immediate vehicle seizure and impoundment: 90 days 
  • Following a criminal conviction
    • Prohibition from driving for a minimum two-year period 
    • Licence revocation: 3 or 5 years (depending on the situation) or longer (depending on the decision of the court) 
    • Imprisonment 
    • Prohibition from registering, acquiring, renting or leasing a vehicle, or putting a vehicle into operation under your name 
    • Alcohol ignition interlock device for life

Costs related to a first offence

  • $1,750 minimum, in addition to non-quantifiable inconveniences and variable costs, such as:
    • criminal record
    • lawyer's fees
    • costs related to the use of an alcohol ignition interlock device (which vary depending on the duration) 
    • increased personal automobile insurance premiums 
    • other costs such as court fees, a contribution to the crime victim’s compensation plan (IVAC), etc.

See the What the Law Says section for a detailed description of costs and penalties.

Traffic offences you commit outside Québec follow you... back to Québec

Québec has entered into reciprocal agreements with Ontario, Maine and the State of New York.

Any offences leading to demerit points that you commit in those jurisdictions are entered on your driving record at the SAAQ, exactly as if those offences had been committed in Québec.

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.

Refusing to obey the orders of a peace officer

Refusing to perform physical coordination tests or to breathe into an alcohol-screening device automatically results in the stiffer penalties provided for under the Criminal Code and the Highway Safety Code.

The effects of drugs on driving

“Hard” drugs

These drugs include LSD, cocaine, crack and heroin, to name a few. They have an immediate and significant effect on the central nervous system. In most cases, they cause feelings of overexcitement, energy and euphoria that may make a person feel invincible.

When used at the wheel, hard drugs can turn drivers into highly dangerous individuals. Excessive speeding and recklessness can result in traffic accidents that often involve not only twisted metal, but lost lives.

“Soft” drugs

Smoking cannabis or using it under any other form causes effects that are as dangerous as using hard drugs, because the THC contained in this drug also acts directly on the central nervous system (the brain).

Cannabis at the wheel causes a decrease in vigilance and concentration, slower reflexes, poor coordination, longer reaction times, and impaired judgment.

When driving under the influence of cannabis, you could:

  • Fail to notice road signs
  • Veer off the road
  • Have difficulty maintaining a constant trajectory
  • Pass other vehicles in an unsafe manner
  • Take too long to brake
  • Have difficulty reacting in the case of an emergency

Prescription and over-the-counter medication

Some medications prescribed by health care professionals or sold over the counter can affect your ability to drive because they may cause:

  • drowsiness
  • dizziness
  • blurred vision
  • decreased concentration
  • memory problems
  • etc.

These medications can include tranquilizers, antidepressants, sleeping pills, antihistamines (for allergies), decongestants (for sinus problems or coughing, etc.), muscle relaxants and others, such as painkillers that contain opioids or other substances.

Almost all types of medications can cause side effects that affect your ability to drive, and these side effects may vary from person to person. Medications that cause drowsiness are particularly dangerous when driving.

You take medication and you have to drive?

Consult your physician or pharmacist to know about the effects of your medication on driving.

Carefully read the instructions and pay special attention to any contraindications to driving, regardless of whether the medication is prescribed by a physician or sold over the counter.

Warning

Beware of mixing!

Mixing medication with alcohol or drugs considerably increases your risk of being involved in a fatal accident. The effects of the different substances used can add up and amplify each other.

Simple and effective alternative solutions

Only time can eliminate the effects of drugs and medication, so plan accordingly! To get around, you can: