Ontario takes impaired driving very seriously, and with good reason. Impaired driving is a major cause of road accidents, and every year, thousands of people are injured or killed by drivers under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The province has put in place some of the harshest penalties in the country to deter people from driving while impaired and to keep the roads safe for everyone. In 2019, the province increased penalties for drunk driving under the Highway Traffic Act (HTA). Fines start at $250 for a first offence and increase to $450 for third and subsequent offences. Refusing a drug or alcohol test or registering a BAC over 0.08 results in a $550 fine.
Table of Contents:
Impaired Driving Laws in Ontario - Highway Traffic Act
*Generally, the Criminal Code is the basis for impaired driving charges, but there may be supplementary sanctions under provincial law.
Like other provinces and territories, Ontario has its own legislation dealing with impaired driving. The HTA includes punishments that are in addition to 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.
What is Impaired Driving?
Alcohol is not the only substance that can impair your ability to drive. Over-the-counter drugs or prescription medicine can affect your motor skills, especially when combined with alcohol. You can also be charged while driving under the influence of illicit drugs and cannabis. THC is the primary psychoactive component of cannabis. Although cannabis is now legal in Canada, it is an offence to have between two and five nanograms of THC per ml of blood when operating a vehicle. Having five ng or more THC per ml of blood is an even more serious offence. 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.
Mandatory Alcohol Screening
In December 2018, the federal government introduced mandatory alcohol screening (MAS), which allows police to demand a breath test from a driver without reasonable suspicion that the driver has alcohol in their body. Prior to that, if you were pulled over, police could only demand a test if there was proof you had been drinking, such as slurred speech, or they detected the smell of alcohol.
Refusing to provide a breath sample will not prevent police from charging you. In Ontario, you face the same penalties for refusal as someone who registers a BAC of 0.08 or more.
Suspensions Are Immediate
Under the Criminal Code, you are considered to be impaired if you have a blood alcohol concentration of .08 percent. The same applies under the Highway Traffic Act. However, in Ontario, if your BAC is between 0.05-0.079, considered the warning range, you will face an immediate three-day licence suspension and a $250 fine.
If you are caught a second time, your licence will be suspended for seven days, you will have to undergo an education or treatment program, and you will be fined $350. A third offence will result in an immediate 30-day licence suspension and a $450 penalty. You will also have to attend an education or treatment program, and an ignition interlock will be placed on your vehicle. An interlock prevents your vehicle from starting if it detects alcohol in your system. Drivers are responsible for the installation and maintenance of the device.
You must also pay the Driver's Licence Reinstatement fee of up to $275 each time you apply to get a suspended licence back.
Stricter Penalties for Impaired Driving
In 2019, the province increased penalties for drunk driving under the Highway Traffic Act (HTA). Fines start at $250 for a first offence and increase to $450 for third and subsequent offences. Refusing a drug or alcohol test or registering a BAC over 0.08 results in a $550 fine.
The province last introduced changes to the Highway Traffic Act (HTA) in 2019, increasing penalties for having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.05 or higher, failing a roadside sobriety test or violating the zero tolerance requirements for young, novice and commercial drivers. Penalties start at $250 for a first offence to $450 for a third and subsequent offence.
A $550 fine was introduced for refusing a drug or alcohol test. The same penalty applies for registering a blood alcohol concentration over 0.08 or if a drug recognition evaluator determines the driver is impaired.
It is important to note that this law also applies to those operating boats, snowmobiles or off-road vehicles.
Penalties Are Immediate
If you register a BAC of 0.08 or more, fail to comply with a demand for alcohol or drug testing or perform poorly during a drug recognition expert evaluation, you face an immediate 90-day roadside suspension for a first offence. You will have to pay a $550 penalty, and your vehicle will be impounded for seven days.
The same penalties apply for a second offence, and you will be expected to attend an education and treatment program. On a third offence, you would face those same penalties, and an ignition interlock would be placed on your vehicle for six months.
Court Conviction Brings Harsh Penalties
If you are convicted in court, your licence will be suspended for a minimum of one year and fined a minimum of $1,000. You must also attend a mandatory education or treatment program and be required to use an ignition interlock device for at least one year.
If you have a second conviction within 10 years, your licence will be suspended for at least three years, you must attend a mandatory education or treatment program, and you must undergo a mandatory medical evaluation to determine whether you meet the requirements for driving in Ontario and you must have an ignition interlock device on your vehicle for least three years.
A third conviction in 10 years could result in a lifetime licence suspension that may be reduced after 10 years if you can meet specific criteria. A fourth conviction in 10 years brings a lifetime suspension with no possibility of reduction.
If you have been charged with impaired driving causing bodily harm, you face a prison sentence of 10 years. You could be imprisoned for life if you are convicted of impaired driving causing death.
Zero Tolerance for Novice and Commercial Drivers
Under Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act, drivers cannot have any alcohol or drugs in their system if they are:
- age 21 or under;
- a driver of any age who holds a G1, G2, M1, or M2 licence;
- driving a vehicle that requires an A-F driver’s licence or Commercial Vehicle Operator’s Registration; or
- driving a road-building machine
Penalties for novice drivers with any trace of alcohol or drugs in their body include an immediate three-day licence suspension, a fine of $60 to $1,000 if convicted and an additional $250 penalty for a first offence. A third offence will result in a 30-day licence suspension, a fine of up to $1,000, an education or treatment program, an ignition interlock for six months and an additional $450 fine.
A conviction can bring an additional licence suspension of up to 90 days, or the licence can be cancelled, depending on the driver’s age and the licence class.
Commercial drivers face an immediate three-day licence suspension each time they have any drugs or alcohol in their system and penalties of up to $450 for a third offence.
Novice or commercial drivers with a BAC of 0.08 face the same penalties as other offenders.