New Impaired Driving Laws
When did the law change?
In December 18, 2018, new laws came into effect regarding both drug and alcohol-impaired driving in Canada. Not only did the new laws introduce new prohibited levels for drug-impaired driving, they introduced new mandatory screening for alcohol-impaired driving and additional penalties.
Mandatory Alcohol Screening
Under the new laws, police officers can demand a breath sample from any person operating a motor vehicle without a reasonable suspicion that the person has alcohol in his or her body. An officer must have a handheld approved screening device (ASD) in his or her possession to lawfully make this demand.
An officer may also make an ASD demand if the officer has reasonable grounds to suspect a person has alcohol in his or her body and has operated a motor vehicle within the preceding three hours. This means it remains possible for an officer to demand a breath sample from a person, even though the person is no longer operating a motor vehicle and/or the officer does not have an ASD in his possession at the time.
The Two-Hour WindowWith the introduction of the new laws, prosecutors no longer need to prove that you were impaired by alcohol or a drug at the time of driving; rather, they only need to prove that you were impaired by alcohol or a drug within two hours of the time of driving.
This means it is now possible to be charged with an impaired driving-related offence even if you did not start drinking or consuming drugs until after you ceased operating a motor vehicle. However, in such circumstances, the timing of your alcohol or drug consumption can be taken into consideration and may provide you with a defence. For example, if you blow over 80 mg% on a breath test due to alcohol you consumed after the time of driving, the timing of your alcohol consumption would provide you with a defence, assuming you had no reasonable expectation that you were going to be required to perform a breath test. But if a court found you had a reasonable expectation that you were going to be required to perform a breath test, this particular defence would no longer be available to you.
Legal Levels of Cannabis
With the legalization of marijuana, laws were amended on June 26, 2018 to recognize a legal level of THC while driving. There are two prohibited levels: 2 nanograms (ng) of THC per ml of blood and 5 ng or more per ml of blood. Driving with a blood drug concentration (BDC) over either of these levels constitutes an offence under the Criminal Code. However, the higher level, driving over with 5 ng is a more serious offence.
Alcohol and Cannabis Combined
When combined, the prohibited limits of alcohol and cannabis change. They are: 50 mg% or more of alcohol per 100 ml of blood and 2.5 ng or more of THC per ml of blood.
It is a criminal offence to have any detectable amount of other drugs in your system within two hours of driving. The exception to this is GHB: the prohibited limit is 5 mg or more per litre of blood.
Blood Samples and Oral Fluid Drug Screeners
Under the new laws, if police officers have reasonable grounds to believe you have been operating a motor vehicle while impaired by a drug, they have the option to use roadside oral fluid drug screeners to detect levels of THC or other drugs in your system. Oral fluid drug screeners are made up of two parts:
- an oral fluid collection kit and
- a reader.
Oral fluid drug screeners can be used in addition to or with other tools such as the Standard Field Sobriety Tests (SFST) and Drug Recognition Evaluations (DRE). Results and/or officer observations from these tests may lead police officers to demand you provide a blood sample.
Impaired driving is viewed as a very serious offence in British Columbia and the new laws have increased the penalties for anyone convicted of any type of impaired driving.
All offences for alcohol, drug, and a combination of alcohol and drug-impaired driving carry mandatory minimum penalties. If you are convicted of alcohol-impaired driving, drug-impaired driving, or within two hours of the time of driving having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) over 80 mg%, or having a blood drug concentration (BDC) exceeding that allowed by the regulations, the mandatory minimum penalties are as follows:
- A minimum $1000 fine;
- A minimum one-year driving prohibition.
- 30-day jail sentence;
- A minimum two-year driving prohibition.
- 120-day jail sentence;
- A minimum three-year driving prohibition.
If you are convicted of driving with a BAC between 120 and 159 mg%, the minimum fine increases to $1500. If you are convicted of driving with a BAC of at least 160 mg%, the fine is $2000.
The minimum penalty for refusal to comply with a demand for a sample is a $2000 fine for a first offence.
If you are convicted of the lesser drug-impaired driving charge (i.e. blood drug concentration of at least 2 ng but less than 5 ng of THC), you will receive a penalty of a $1000 fine and a minimum one-year driving prohibition for a first and all subsequent offences.
Finally, the recent changes to the law introduced a new Criminal Code offence for having a BAC of 50 mg% in combination with 2.5 ng or more of THC within two hours of the time of driving. The statutory minimum penalties for this offence are the same as those listed above for alcohol and drug-impaired driving.
Our lawyers specialize in drinking and driving and drug-impaired driving charges. We have significant experience successfully defending drivers throughout BC. Call us today to discuss your case and find out how we can help you.