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Rules & regulations

Impaired driving: What you need to know

Here’s a scenario to consider. You drive to a friend’s house, and decide to have just one drink before you head home. After all, what’s a few drinks? You’ll get home safe or pass the officer’s roadside alcotest, right? Nope.

Alcohol affects each person differently - so even just one drink can render you incapable of safely operating a car.

If you drink or do drugs and drive, you could misjudge distances, fall asleep (yes that happens), have blurred vision and dimished reflexes, and put yourself and others on the road at risk of serious injury or death.

Some facts about impaired driving

  • Once you consume alcohol, there is no way to determine your blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Many factors affect your BAC, like how fast you drink, what your body weight is, and how quickly your body metabolizes alcohol.
  • In Canada the legal limit for fully licensed drivers is 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood (0.08). Driving with BAC over 0.08 is a criminal offence
  • If you’re 21 or under, or a novice driver of any age, the legal BAC limit is a big, fat ZERO. That means consuming zero alcoholic drinks before driving.
  • You can be charged with impaired driving even if you register less than 0.08 on the Intoxalyzer (that’s what the pros call a breathalyzer.)
  • You don’t even have to be driving to be charged. Just sitting behind the wheel in a stationary car while drunk can cause you to lose your licence or face fines and penalties.

The way Toronto’s Constable Clinton Stibbe sees it:

“Don’t drink or do drugs and drive, period. If you choose to drive a vehicle when you're really not able, you must consider the consequences of impaired driving."

Officers can tell when you’re driving on drugs

There are trained drug recognition officers to detect whether or not you have consumed drugs. You could be subject to a field sobriety test if an officer suspects you of drug driving. Or you could be hauled off to the police station for further testing.

That includes your regular meds

Prescription drugs can also affect your ability to drive by causing drowsiness or other side effects that impair your ability to operate a vehicle - and this could lead to an impaired driving charge. If you’re using a new medication that may impede your ability to operate a car, don’t drive until you know the drug’s full effects.

If you're charged with impaired driving, it is an offence under the criminal code of Canada, and you will also face sanctions under the Ontario Highway Traffic Act.

Find out about the penalties for impaired driving.


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Farida started writing for ingenie in 2015. She got her Ontario licence in 2014 and her first car was a manual 2003 VW Jetta GLS 1.8T. Follow her on Twitter.