Driving While Affected by Drugs or Alcohol

Overview

Driving while affected by alcohol or drugs is a leading cause of death on the roads. Every year in B.C., thousands of people operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and / or other drugs which affect their ability to drive. This is a serious concern because the risk of motor vehicle collisions that result in injuries and / or fatalities significantly increases when the driver is affected by alcohol or drugs.

Two Laws Addressing Alcohol, Drugs and Driving

FEDERAL LAW

The Criminal Code (s. 249 - 261) states it is a criminal offence to operate a motor vehicle (whether in motion or not) while impaired by alcohol, a drug or a combination of alcohol and a drug.  This includes operating a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content (BAC) exceeding 80 milligrams (mg) of alcohol in 100 millilitres (mL) of blood (0.08 BAC), or operating a motor vehicle with a blood drug concentration equal to or exceeding a prescribed value.  For more information on the federal blood drug concentration regulations, please visit the Government of Canada website.

For example, offences relating to the operation of a motor vehicle while impaired by Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) include:

  • A summary conviction where a driver has at least 2 nanograms (ng) but less than 5 ng of THC per mL of blood within two hours of driving;
  • A hybrid offence where a driver has at least 5 ng or more of THC per mL of blood; and
  • A hybrid offence where a driver has a combined BAC of 50 mg of alcohol per 100 mL of blood, combined with a THC level equal to or exceeding 2.5 ng per mL of blood within two hours.

If police have reasonable grounds to believe a person is committing, or at any time within the preceding two hours (drugs) or three hours (alcohol) has committed this offence, they may request that the person provide a sample of breath or blood or may request that a person submit to an evaluation by a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) and provide a sample of a bodily substance. It is also an offence to fail or refuse to comply with the request without a reasonable excuse.

For criminal offences to become criminal convictions, under the Criminal Code, police need to lay charges and those charges need to be prosecuted through the court system. The consequences for convicted offenders are determined by judges and can include jail time, monetary penalties, driving prohibitions and / or restrictions.

PROVINCIAL LAW

The Motor Vehicle Act has authority over and regulates drivers and vehicles on B.C. roads. If an Approved Screening Device indicates a driver, with care or control of a motor vehicle, has a BAC not less than 50 mg/100ml they can be served with an Immediate Roadside Prohibition (IRP).

Indicators and Roadside Screening Devices

If an officer has reasonable suspicion to believe a driver may be under the influence of alcohol, he or she can request a breath sample using an Approved Screening Device (ASD) to determine a driver’s BAC.

The ASD will indicate a digital BAC reading, a WARN or a FAIL (more information below).

Digital Reading of 0-.049

WARN

Your breath sample contains a BAC of not less than 50 mg/100ml, the following consequences will occur:   

1st time within five-year period

  • Your driver's licence is seized immediately, prohibiting you from driving for three days.
  • The vehicle you are driving may be impounded for three days; and if so, you are responsible for all towing and vehicle storage costs.
  • You are required to pay a $200 administrative penalty.
  • You have to apply to have your driver's licence reinstated and pay the licence reinstatement fee as well as any other outstanding debts to ICBC or the Government of BC if you wish to drive again.

2nd time within five-year period

  • Your driver's licence is seized immediately, prohibiting you from driving for seven days.
  • The vehicle you are driving may be impounded for seven days; and if so, you are responsible for all towing and vehicle storage costs.
  • You are required to pay a $300 administrative penalty.
  • You may be referred to the Responsible Driver Program.
  • You have to apply to have your driver's licence reinstated and pay the licence reinstatement fee as well as any other outstanding debts to ICBC or the Government of BC if you wish to drive again.

3rd time within five-year period

  • Your driver's licence is seized immediately, prohibiting you from driving for 30 days.
  • The vehicle you are driving is impounded immediately, for 30 days, and you are responsible for all towing and storage costs.
  • You are required to pay a $400 administrative penalty.
  • You may be referred to the Responsible Driver Program.
  • You may be referred to the Ignition Interlock Program.
  • You have to apply to have your driver's licence reinstated and pay the licence reinstatement fee as well as any other outstanding debts to ICBC or the Government of BC if you wish to drive again.

FAIL, REFUSAL or FAIL TO PROVIDE A BREATH SAMPLE

If your breath sample produces a FAIL result on the ASD, indicating a BAC of not less than 80 mg/100ml, or you refuse or fail to provide a breath sample, a peace officer may issue a 90-day Immediate Roadside Prohibition (IRP) or at the officer’s discretion, proceed by way of a Criminal Code charge.

If you are issued a 90-day IRP the following consequences will occur:

  • Your driver's licence is seized immediately, prohibiting you from driving for 90 days.
  • The vehicle you are driving will be impounded for thirty days; you are responsible for all towing and storage costs.
  • You are required to pay a $500 administrative penalty.
  • You may be referred to the Responsible Driver Program.
  • You may be referred to the Ignition Interlock Program.  
  • You have to apply to have your driver's licence reinstated and pay the licence reinstatement fee as well as any other outstanding debts to ICBC or the Government of BC if you wish to drive again.

See Also, Immediate Roadside Prohibition Penalties.

If police proceed by way of a Criminal Code charge police will:

  • Issue you an immediate 24-hour driving prohibition, and may tow/impound your vehicle.
  • Detain you for further breathalyzer testing at the police station, and on further confirmed testing of a BAC over 0.08, or upon refusal to provide a breath sample, issue a 90-day Administrative Driving Prohibition (if you refuse to provide a sample of your breath you will be issued an Administrative Driving Prohibition at roadside).
  • Charge you under the Criminal Code of Canada (s.249-261).

Upon criminal conviction you are subject to:

  • Court ordered consequences, which include a minimum $1,000 fine, a driving prohibition and possible jail time.
  • Possible referral to the Responsible Driver Program and / or the Ignition Interlock Program.

Alcohol Related Motor Vehicle Incidents

If a peace officer suspects you were the driver of a vehicle in a motor vehicle incident they can request you attend the police station where they will pursue a criminal investigation. Police may also issue an administrative driving prohibition separate from any court-issued penalties which may be imposed after the criminal proceedings.

Drug Affected Driving

If a peace officer suspects a driver is affected by drugs, they may conduct a prescribed physical coordination test. The results of this test may constitute grounds to impose sanctions (such as 24-hour prohibition). At the officer's discretion, the driver may be subject to a drug recognition evaluation by a specialized DRE – this evaluation is much more detailed and is used by police as evidence in order to pursue drug impaired driving charges under the Criminal Code of Canada.

Alcohol, Drugs and the Graduated Licensing Program

Graduated Licensing Program (GLP) drivers who demonstrate BAC levels greater than zero but less than 0.05, or who police suspect to have the presence of drugs in their system, face the following additional consequences:

  • Immediately receive a 12-hour licence suspension for alcohol impairment (24 hours for drug impairment).
  • Have their driving record reviewed by the Superintendent and may be issued further driving prohibitions. For more information see the Driver Improvement Program page on this site.
  • Will have to apply to reinstate their driver’s licence after any prohibition longer than 24 hours and pay the licence reinstatement fee.
  • Novice drivers will start over at the beginning of their 24-month (N) licensing period. Learners will reattempt all testing.

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