More than a decade ago, British Columbia introduced legislation* that gave this province the harshest impaired driving laws in Canada. In BC, 64 people die in impaired driving crashes each year, according to ICBC. Impairment can be from drugs, alcohol, prescription or over-the-counter medication. Consequences include fines, jail time, impoundment, suspension, rehabilitation, and ignition interlock. Roadside testing is allowed for any driver pulled over "lawfully." BAC of 0.08 or higher or THC of 2-5 ng/mL is illegal, and refusing a breath test leads to serious consequences. A conviction can result in fines, jail time, license suspension, a fee for the Responsible Driver Program, and the RoadSafetyBC Ignition Interlock Program.
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Impaired Driving in British Columbia
*Generally, the Criminal Code is the basis for impaired driving charges, but there may be supplementary sanctions under provincial law.
Impaired driving is not limited to being under the influence of alcohol. You can be charged if you get behind the wheel of a vehicle after consuming prescription, legal or illegal drugs. Even over-the-counter medication can impair your ability to drive. If you are caught, you could face the following:
- a driving suspension from 24 hours to 90 days;
- vehicle impoundment;
- fines up to $4,060;
- a jail sentence;
- mandatory rehabilitation; and
- installation of an ignition interlock in your vehicle.
Federal laws passed in 2018 give police the right to conduct roadside testing for impaired driving on anyone who has been “lawfully” pulled over. Prior to this update , officers needed a “reasonable suspicion” that a driver was impaired, such as slurred speech, before administering a breathalyzer.
In B.C., you can be charged with impaired driving if you have a blood alcohol content (BAC) equal to or exceeding 80 milligrams (mg) of alcohol in 100 millilitres (mL) of blood (0.08 BAC).
Even if your BAC is below 0.08, you could still face charges. And for those in the Graduated Licensing Program, you cannot have any alcohol or drugs in your system while driving.
THC is the primary psychoactive component of cannabis. The federal Department of Justice also has guidelines for cannabis impairment. It is an offence to have between two and five nanograms (ng) of THC per ml of blood when operating a vehicle. It is an even more serious offence to have five ng or more of THC per ml of blood.
The combined prohibited levels of alcohol and cannabis are 50 mg or more of alcohol per 100 ml of blood and 2.5 ng or more of THC per ml of blood.
Immediate Roadside Prohibition
How police proceed will depend on the circumstances of your case. If you perform a roadside breath test and your BAC is over 0.08, the officer can issue a 90-day immediate roadside prohibition (IRP). You can also be charged under the Criminal Code.
A BAC between 0.05 and 0.08 will trigger a warning on the breathalyzer. What happens next depends on whether you have had a previous warning in the past five years.
On your first warning, your driver’s licence will be seized, and you will not be legally permitted to drive for three days. Your vehicle may also be towed and impounded for three days, and you will be fined $200.
Your driver’s licence will be suspended on a second warning, and you will be prohibited from driving for seven days. You will be fined $300, and your vehicle may be towed and impounded for seven days.
If it is your third warning, police will seize your driver’s licence, and you will lose your driving privileges for 30 days. Your vehicle could be towed and held for 30 days, and you will be fined $400.
Refusing to provide a breath sample can also result in serious consequences. Your driver’s license will be seized, and you will be unable to drive for 90 days. Your vehicle can be towed and impounded for 30 days, and you will be fined $500.
Criminal Charges Are Possible
If you are charged with a Criminal Code offence, you will be taken to a police station for more tests, and your vehicle could be towed and impounded for 24 hours. If tests find you are over the legal limit, you will be subject to a 90-day administrative driving prohibition. You could also face a criminal trial. A criminal conviction can bring a fine of at least $1,000, a licence suspension or even jail time.
New drivers with a graduated licence are prohibited from operating a vehicle with any alcohol in their bodies. If their BAC is between 0.00 and 0.04, they face an immediate 12-hour license suspension and must restart the current stage of their graduated license.
Conviction for Impaired Driving in B.C
A conviction for impaired driving in B.C. will result in fines, jail time and a licence suspension, but you may also have to pay a Driver Risk Premium on top of your auto insurance. If you are involved in a collision while driving impaired, you will likely be in breach of your insurance policy, which means you could be responsible for 100 percent of the costs of any damage or injuries.
You could be referred to the Responsible Driver Program, which has an $880 registration fee.
You may be required to participate if:
- you are convicted of driving while impaired;
- you have been issued an administrative driving prohibition;
- you have been issued a 30- or 90-day license suspension;
- you have been issued three or more 24-hour suspensions within a five-year period;
- if you have been suspended 24 hours, three days or seven days.
Depending on your circumstances, you may have to attend an eight-hour alcohol education class or 16 hours of group counselling for three months.
RoadSafetyBC Ignition Interlock Program
RoadSafetyBC could also order you to take part in the Ignition Interlock Program. A device will be wired to your ignition and will be required to provide an alcohol-free breath sample to start your vehicle.
You will also be expected to provide samples at random times while your vehicle is operating to ensure you remain alcohol-free. If you have been drinking, the device will prompt you to pull over and turn the engine off. If you ignore the prompts, the device’s alarm will sound until the vehicle is turned off.
It is important to note that an impaired driving conviction will remain on your driving record for three years, while a Criminal Code conviction remains on your criminal record until you apply for a record suspension and it is accepted.