Don’t Let Impaired Driving Spoil the Festive Season

police car with blue siren light on pulling over an impaired driver

As the holiday season is in full swing, it's crucial to ensure that festive celebrations remain joyful and safe for everyone. Law enforcement efforts to curb impaired driving are in full force during this period, particularly through initiatives like Ontario's Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere (RIDE) program, operating 24/7 until New Year's Day.

Despite these efforts, the unfortunate truth is that impaired driving continues to pose a significant threat, with 614 lives lost in Ontario over the past decade, and 42 deaths this year alone due to impaired crashes. Notably, rural areas face a higher risk, largely due to longer travel distances and limited access to alternative transportation options.

Alcohol Is Not the Only Substance That Can Lead to an Impaired Charge.

Prescription and some over-the-counter medications, and cannabis in just small amounts can impair your ability to drive. Even prescription can cause an impairment, especially if they interact poorly with alcohol or marijuana. Combine that with winter weather hazards and even a short drive can turn deadly.

Many drugs can also impair your ability to drive. Drugs can reduce alertness, alter depth perception, impair concentration and attention span, slow reaction time, and affect motor skills and visual function. You can be charged while driving under the influence of illicit drugs and cannabis, which was legalized in Canada in 2018. It is an offence to have between two and five nanograms of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), per ml of blood when operating a vehicle, with over 5 nanograms of THC, the primary psychoactive component of cannabis, per ml of blood carrying more serious penalties.

Impaired Driving Under the Law.

Enforcement against impaired driving has strengthened over the years. The introduction of mandatory alcohol screening (MAS) in 2018 allows police to demand a breath test without reasonable suspicion, giving them more authority to combat impaired driving.

Impaired driving is enforced federally under the Criminal Code (Section 320.14(1) of the Code makes driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) above .08 percent a criminal offence), and provincially under the Highway Traffic Act (Section 48 of the HTA makes driving with a BAC over .08, as well as driving with a BAC between .05 and .079 a punishable offence).

The Cost of Impaired Driving for Drivers.

Every hour in Canada, an average of 10 federal criminal charges and provincial short- term licence suspensions are laid for alcohol or drug-impaired driving, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada (MADD).

The HTA includes punishments above and beyond penalties in the Criminal Code. If police determine your ability to drive is impaired you face an immediate licence suspension, fines, vehicle impoundment, enrollment in treatment or educational programs and additional fees to reinstate your licence.

Under the HTA if your BAC is between .05-.079, considered the ‘warning range’, you face an immediate three-day licence suspension and a $250 fine.

In addition to the inherent risk of injury or death associated with driving while impaired, a conviction for impaired driving on a first offence in Ontario will result in:

  • licence suspension for at least one year;
  • minimum $1000 fine;
  • mandatory attendance at an education or treatment program;
  • installation of an ignition interlock device on your vehicle for at least one year.

A second conviction within 10 years will result in:

  • licence suspension for at least three years;
  • mandatory attendance at an education or treatment program;
  • medical evaluation to determine whether you meet provincial requirements for driving;
  • installation of an ignition interlock device on your vehicle for at least three years.

A third conviction in 10 years could result in a lifetime licence suspension with the possibility of reduction after 10 years. A fourth conviction within 10 years results in a lifetime suspension with no possibility of reduction. A conviction for impaired driving causing bodily harm carries a prison sentence of up to 10 years. Impaired driving causing death can result in a life sentence.

In addition to the criminal sanctions outlined above, impaired driving can come with a steep monetary price. One study showed a conviction could cost you $23,000 or more for things like increased insurance premiums, fines, towing and impound fees and the cost of having a breath ignition lock installed on your vehicle.

The Impact of Impaired Driving on Others.

Of course, the toll impaired driving takes goes far beyond criminal penalties and costs for those who drive impaired. In 2019, impaired driving resulted in the deaths of at least 155 people, and injury of at least 540. Of the 155 deaths recorded by police, 88 were impaired drivers and 67 were other road users.

The lives of those who survive an impaired driving collision are often forever-altered. They are left with injuries that may affect their quality of life, ability to work, and psychological well-being. This impact is also felt by those who lose loved ones to fatal impaired driving collisions.

According to MADD Canada, the financial costs of impaired driving is estimated to be $20 billion per year, and the social costs of an impaired driving-related death is over $13 million, and the average costs per injury is $44,000.

Take Care This Holiday Season.

If you plan to drink or use cannabis at a festive gathering this holiday season, leave the car at home, and use a ride-share, taxi, or public transportation. Have a designated driver, and never accept a ride with someone you suspect is impaired.

Hosts of social gatherings carry their own responsibility under the law to ensure the safety of their guests during and after a party, including guests who consume alcohol or drugs that were not provided by the host. If you are hosting a party and offering alcohol or cannabis, encourage guests to leave their cars at home. Make snacks and alcohol- free beverage readily available. Avoid over-serving and ensure your guests are fit to drive when it is time to leave.

If you encounter a suspected impaired driver don’t attempt to stop the vehicle. Keep a safe distance and call 911 using a hands-free device.

If you have been involved in a motor vehicle collision with a suspected impaired driver, call 911 and wait for help to arrive. Record details of the accident while they are fresh in your mind. Take photos of the motor vehicle accident scene and the vehicles.

If you have been injured in an impaired driving accident contact us. At Gluckstein Lawyers we are committed to full-circle care. Contact us for a free consultation with one of our personal injury lawyers. We never charge legal fees until your claim is settled.


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