Brushing Up on Impaired Driving Laws in the Wake of Recreational Cannabis Legalization
As you may be well aware of, recreational cannabis was legalized by the Government of Canada on October 17th. The legalization includes laws and rules to keep children and youth safe, combat the illegal market, and keep roads safe. While there have been studies to show that some Canadians don’t believe driving while under the influence of cannabis is dangerous, the truth is that cannabis, similarly to other drugs, slows your reaction time, affects your balance and coordination, motor skills, ability to focus, judgement and decision-making skills and increases your chances of being in a collision. To emphasize the importance of not driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs we’ve included some information regarding the consequences and penalties you may face if you choose to drive while impaired or should you get in a vehicle with a driver who is impaired by alcohol or drugs. If police determine that you are driving while impaired you will face penalties immediately. You will also face additional consequences later if you are convicted in court. The penalties you face can vary depending on your age, licence type, the amount of alcohol or drugs in your system, and how many times you have been convicted. Arguably the most important law in place for discouraging impaired driving is the zero-tolerance policy Ontario has for young and novice drivers – meaning drivers age 21 and under and novice drivers of any age (applying to G1, G2, M1, M2 licenses) must not have any presence of alcohol or drugs in their blood when behind the wheel. This is important to note as although the legalization of cannabis allows the legal purchase, possession and growing of recreation cannabis (according to specific rules outlined by the Federal and Provincial Governments) for anyone 19 years old and up, the young and novice driver policy maintains zero-tolerance until the age of 22. If the zero tolerance requirements for young and novice drivers are violated, if any driver is found to have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of 0.05 or higher, or if a roadside sobriety test is failed a first offence immediate penalty carries a 3-day license suspension which cannot be appealed and beginning January 2019 there will also be a $250 penalty. A second offence within 5 years carries a 7-day license suspension which cannot be appealed, a $350 penalty beginning in January 2019, as well as mandatory education program. Third and subsequent offences will result in 30-day license suspension which cannot be appealed, a $450 penalty beginning in January 2019, mandatory attendance of a treatment program and an ignition interlock device being required for at least six months. In the case of a fourth or subsequent offence within 10 years, a driver will be required to undergo a mandatory medical evaluation to determine whether they meet the requirements for driving in Ontario. It should also be added that in addition to the penalties mentioned above, a $198 license reinstatement fee is required each time your license is suspended and you may also be charged under the Highway Traffic Act and if convicted, you will face an additional suspension and fine. For example, if you are a young or novice driver convicted in court for violating the zero tolerance requirements for drugs and/or alcohol, your driver’s license will be suspended again for at least 30 days and you will receive an additional $60-$500 fine. If a driver refuses to take a drug or alcohol test, registers a BAC level over 0.08 or if a drug recognition evaluator determines that you are impaired, you will face a 90-day license suspension, 7-day vehicle impoundment and a $550 penalty beginning in January 2019. You will also have to pay a $198 license reinstatement fee. Second or subsequent occurrences within 10 years will result in mandatory attendance in an education or treatment program. A third or subsequent offence will require the use of an ignition interlock device for at least six months. No matter what age or license you have, if you are convicted criminally of impaired driving in court, you can face additional fines and jail time, plus: First offence License suspension of at least 1 year You must attend a mandatory education or treatment program Requirement to use an ignition interlock device for at least 1 year You will need to undergo a mandatory medical evaluation to determine whether you meet the requirements for driving in Ontario Second offence within 10 years License suspension of at least 3 years You must attend a mandatory education or treatment program Requirement to use an ignition interlock device for at least 3 years You will need to undergo a mandatory medical evaluation to determine whether you meet the requirements for driving in Ontario Third or more offence within 10 years Lifetime license suspension, which may be reduced after 10 years if you meet certain criteria You must attend a mandatory education or treatment program Requirement to use an ignition interlock device for at least 6 years You will need to undergo a mandatory medical evaluation to determine whether you meet the requirements for driving in Ontario Aside from the legal and financial consequences of impaired driving, including the likely increase in your insurance premiums, there are also the health and emotional consequences that can occur in the event of an impaired driving accident which can see yourself, your passengers, other drivers or pedestrians injured or killed. In the case of medical cannabis users, if a police officer is satisfied that you are legally authorized to use cannabis for medical purposes, you will not be subject to Ontario’s zero tolerance drug requirements for young and novice drivers. However, you can still face penalties and criminal charges if a police officer determines that your ability to drive has been impaired. Even if you have been authorized to use cannabis or another drug by a health care professional, it is your responsibility to ensure you are not impaired while driving. Simply put, impaired driving is not worth the risk. There are far too many alternative options for anyone to take the risk of getting behind the wheel while impaired including having a designated driver, using public transit, calling a friend or relative for a ride, calling a taxi or ride share, or staying overnight. With so many alternative options for impaired driving in 2018, there’s no reason that crashes involving alcohol and/or drugs are the leading criminal cause of death in Canada and that every day, on average, nearly 3.5 Canadians are killed in alcohol and/or drug-related motor vehicle crashes on public roads involving at least one “principal highway vehicle” (i.e. passenger cars, vans, trucks and motorcycles). We hope you’ll consider this information the next time you consume alcohol and/or drugs of any kind and consider getting behind the wheel and share this information with those in your life to spread the word on the seriousness of driving while impaired by alcohol and/or drugs. Ending impaired driving won’t happen overnight but if we all do our part we can make a significant impact.