Impaired driving is a major issue in Nova Scotia, with an average of 22 deaths yearly due to alcohol-related accidents. Nova Scotia has laws to punish those caught driving under the influence, including automatic license suspension for those registering a BAC between .05 and .08 and criminal charges for those with a BAC of .08 or higher. Drivers can be charged under both the Traffic Safety Act and Criminal Code, with penalties ranging from administrative fees to life in prison for impaired driving causing death.
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Nova Scotia Impaired Driving
*Generally, the Criminal Code is the basis for impaired driving charges, but there may be supplementary sanctions under provincial law.
According to provincial government statistics, alcohol-related accidents claim the lives of 22 Nova Scotians on average each year. The province also found that the average blood alcohol content of those convicted of an impaired driving offence in Nova Scotia is .16 percent, twice the legal level.
In 2010, the government introduced laws to punish those caught driving after drinking even if they weren't considered legally impaired under Canada's Criminal Code. Those who register a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of between .05 and .08 automatically lose their licence for seven days and must pay an administrative fee to get it back. A BAC of .08 or higher will result in criminal charges.
Charged Under the Traffic Safety Act or Criminal Code
Each province and territory in Canada is responsible for its roadways. Nova Scotia governs the rights and responsibilities of its drivers under the Traffic Safety Act (TSA), which includes laws to deal with impaired driving. These drivers can also be charged under Canada's Criminal Code, with penalties that can include life in prison for impaired driving causing death.
Impaired Driving is Not Limited to Alcohol
You can be convicted of impaired driving if you drive with a BAC equal to or over 80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood, or .08. However, alcohol is not the only substance that can affect your driving ability. Illegal drugs and cannabis, over-the-counter drugs, and prescription medications can impair your motor skills, especially when combined with alcohol.
According to the Nova Scotia government, some medications cause inattention and drowsiness. They list several drugs, such as antidepressants, codeine and steroids, that can impact your sobriety. Police can also charge you with driving under the influence of illicit drugs and cannabis.
While cannabis is legal in Canada, driving while under the influence of it is not. It is an offence to have between two and five nanograms of THC (the primary psychoactive component of cannabis) per ml of blood when operating a vehicle. Driving with a reading of five ng or more of THC per ml of blood is an even more serious offence. The combined prohibited levels of alcohol and cannabis are 50mg or more of alcohol per 100 ml of blood and 2.5 ng or more of THC per ml of blood.
Nova Scotia has a zero-tolerance policy for new drivers under its Graduated Drivers Licence system.
Mandatory Alcohol Screening
The federal government introduced mandatory alcohol screening (MAS) in December 2018. MAS allows police to demand a breath test from a driver at a roadside stop without reasonable suspicion that they have alcohol in their body. Prior to the new legislation, police could only demand a test if there was proof you had been drinking, such as having slurred speech or the smell of alcohol was detected.
You cannot escape punishment by failing to provide a breath sample. In Nova Scotia, it is a criminal offence to refuse to take any of the tests police demand. You could be fined a minimum of $2,000 and lose your licence for a first offence.
Suspensions Are Immediate
If police reasonably suspect you are impaired, you will be asked for a breath sample. Police in Nova Scotia uses an SL2 roadside screening device that will indicate "pass," "warn," or "fail."
A reading of "warn" means you have a BC of between .05 and .08. What happens next will depend on whether you have been caught driving impaired in the past 10 years. Police can issue an immediate seven-day, 15-day or 30-day suspension of your licence.
If the device registers a "fail," you will be arrested and taken to a police station and asked to take a breathalyzer test. If you register a BAC of .08 or over, you will be criminally charged and face a court trial.
Consequences of a Criminal Conviction
As a first offender, you will be fined $600 to $2,000, and your driver's licence will be suspended one year from the date of conviction, not the date you were charged. You must complete an Addiction/Drug Dependency Services assessment program, which will cost you $455. You may be required to retake all of your driver's tests, including written, road, and vision tests, and you will have to pay a licence reinstatement fee of $124.60.
If you are convicted of impaired driving a second time within 10 years, you face a fine of $600 to $2,000 and a possible jail term of at least 14 days. You will lose your driving privileges for three years from the date of conviction. You must also complete the Addiction/Drug Dependency Services assessment program and retake your driver's tests.
A third offence will result in a fine of $600 to $2,000, a jail term of at least 90 days, and an indefinite licence suspension (minimum of 10 years). As with a second conviction, you will be required to retake your driver's tests and pay a reinstatement fee before getting your licence back. You must also retake the province's assessment program at your expense.
If you are convicted a fourth time, you not only face fines and a jail term, but your licence will be suspended for life.
If you injure someone in an accident, you can be charged with impaired driving causing bodily harm and imprisoned for up to 10 years. You face life in prison if you are convicted of impaired driving causing death.
Alcohol Ignition Interlock Program
Alcohol interlock is a device installed on your ignition that takes breath samples. Your vehicle will not start if alcohol is detected. While the vehicle is running, the device requires you to provide breath samples at random times. If a sample is not provided or your blood alcohol content is over the limit, the device will log the event, warn you and trigger an alarm that will sound until the ignition is turned off.
You may be required to have the device installed in order to have your licence reinstated. You can choose to participate after your first conviction. However, the program is mandatory if you have two more or convictions, if you have been convicted of impaired driving causing bodily harm or death or if your addictions services counsellor has rated you are a high risk to re-offend.