Impaired driving is punishable under multiple offences in the Criminal Code of Canada. Penalties for impaired driving depend on resulting harm and the province or territory wherein the offence occurred. Indeed, BC boasts some of the toughest impaired driving laws in Canada. British Columbians face penalties for driving over 0.05, with increased penalties for driving over 0.08.

Impaired Driving Definition

Impaired driving, often called a DUI, describes the criminal charges of operating a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol or drugs, driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) over 0.08, and refusing to provide a breath sample.

What is Impaired Driving?

You may be charged with impaired driving if your ability to operate a vehicle is impaired by alcohol or drugs. Impaired Driving charges require evidence of impairment, including driving pattern, presentation (such as abnormal speech, red eyes, balance and coordination issues), admission of use or consumption, and the smell of alcohol on your person.

The court often relies on observations made by police officers and other civilian witnesses. Under such circumstances, observed behaviour must deviate from normal behaviour to a degree that suggests your ability to drive was impaired — but to what degree?

Degree of impairment to operate a motor vehicle must only be evident, not marked. But there’s an important distinction to note.

A fine but critical difference exists between slight impairment generally speaking, and slight impairment of your ability to drive. While one drink might undermine your ability to thread a needle or perform brain surgery, your ability to drive isn’t automatically impaired with each drink.

So the question is not whether you’re impaired to any degree. It’s whether your ability to drive is impaired to any degree by alcohol or drugs.

Driving over 0.08

Driving over 0.08 refers to operating a vehicle while having a blood alcohol content of more than 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 milligrams of blood. A blood alcohol reading is acquired from a police breathalyzer or blood sample. A reading over 0.10 on an approved screening device will register a fail result.

Driving over 0.05

Driving over 0.05 refers to operating a vehicle while having a blood alcohol content of more than 50 milligrams of alcohol per 100 milligrams of blood. A reading between 0.05 and 0.10 on an approved screening device will register a warning. Consequences for warn readings depend on the number of impaired driving offences received in the past five years.

Refusal

Failure to comply with a breath or blood demand of a police officer will result in a charge of refusal. A refusal charge may stem from outright refusal or failure to provide a sample despite blowing into the machine.

Impaired Driving in the Criminal Code of Canada

Section 320.14 of the Criminal Code states that everyone commits an offence who

  1. operates a conveyance while the person’s ability to operate it is impaired to any degree by alcohol or a drug or by a combination of alcohol and a drug;
  2. has, within two hours after ceasing to operate a conveyance, a blood alcohol concentration that is equal to or exceeds 80 mg of alcohol in 100 mL of blood;
  3. has, within two hours after ceasing to operate a conveyance, a blood drug concentration that is equal to or exceeds the blood drug concentration for the drug that is prescribed by regulation; or
  4. has, within two hours after ceasing to operate a conveyance, a blood alcohol concentration and a blood drug concentration that is equal to or exceeds the blood alcohol concentration and the blood drug
  5. concentration for the drug that are prescribed by regulation for instances where alcohol and that drug are combined.

Impaired Driving Penalties

British Columbians face consequences for driving over 0.05, with increased penalties for driving over 0.08. Consequences will depend on whether it’s your first, second, or third offence in the last five years.

First offence of driving over 0.05 in five years

  • Immediate three-day seizure of your driver’s license, during which you cannot drive
  • Towing and three-day vehicle impoundment (costs are your responsibility)
  • A $200 penalty
  • You must apply to have your driver’s license reinstated

Second offence of driving over 0.05 in five years

  • Immediate seven-day seizure of your driver’s license, during which you cannot drive
  • Towing and seven-day vehicle impoundment

Third offence of driving over 0.05 in five years

  • Immediate thirty-day seizure of your driver’s license, during which you cannot drive
  • Towing and thirty-day vehicle impoundment (costs are your responsibility)
  • A $400 penalty
  • You must apply to have your licence reinstated
  • Possible referral to the Responsible Driver Program (costs are your responsibility)
  • Possible referral for the Ignition Interlock Program (costs are your responsibility)

Consequences for impaired driving, driving over 0.08, and refusing to provide a breath or blood sample

These cases can be proceeded with either through administrative processes contained in the Motor Vehicle Act or through the Criminal Code. The administrative consequences are:

  • Immediate roadside prohibition (IRP) with a ninety-day forfeiture of your driver’s license
  • Towing and thirty-day vehicle impoundment (costs are your responsibility)
  • Minimum $1,000 fine for your first offence
  • You must apply to have your licence reinstated
  • Possible referral to the Responsible Driver Program (costs are your responsibility)
  • Possible referral for the Ignition Interlock Program (costs are your responsibility)

If the case involves charges under the Criminal Code the potential consequences are:

  • Mandatory thirty-day prison sentence for second convictions
  • Mandatory 120-day prison sentence for third convictions
  • Maximum prison sentence of 10 years for impaired driving
  • Maximum prison sentence of 14 years for impaired driving causing bodily harm
  • Maximum life in prison for impaired driving causing death
  • Minimum fine for refusing to provide a sample is $2,000
  • Possible travel restrictions to the United States
  • High risk insurance rates for 5 years for failure to provide a sample despite blowing into the machine.
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