In Quebec, impaired driving is a serious offence under the province's Highway Safety Code and the Criminal Code. The province has strict laws against impaired driving, especially for repeat offenders. Anyone guilty of impaired driving can face severe consequences, including jail time and license suspension. Impaired driving is not limited to alcohol and can also include the influence of drugs, over-the-counter medicine, prescription medicine, and cannabis. The legal limit for THC while driving is 2-5 nanograms per ml of blood and 50mg or more alcohol per 100 ml of blood. Impaired driving also applies to the operation of boats, snowmobiles, and off-road vehicles.
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Impaired Driving in Quebec
*Generally, the Criminal Code is the basis for impaired driving charges, but there may be supplementary sanctions under provincial law.
Quebec, like all provinces and territories in Canada, has strict laws to combat impaired driving. Société de l'assurance automobile du Québec states that alcohol-related accidents cause an average of 110 deaths, 260 serious injuries and 1,800 minor injuries yearly. In 2019, Quebec introduced legislation requiring those who have been found guilty of impaired driving a second time within 10 years to pass a breathalyzer test each time they drive. The province is especially tough on repeat offenders, with a minimum 30-day jail sentence and a license suspension of up to five years for a second conviction. Offenders are only permitted to operate vehicles equipped with an alcohol interlock device. The device could remain on the vehicle for life.
Federal and Provincial Offence
Impaired driving is covered under Quebec's Highway Safety Code, which governs the use of vehicles, pedestrian traffic and road safety in the province. Police also have the option of charging you with impaired driving as a Criminal Code offence.
In Quebec, you can be arrested if:
- your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is equal to or over 80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood (0.08);
- your ability to drive is impaired by drugs or alcohol, even if your blood alcohol concentration is below 0.08; and
- you refuse to obey a peace officer's orders, such as breathing into an alcohol-screening device or performing physical coordination tests.
Defining Impaired Driving in Quebec
Driving under the influence (DUI) is not limited to operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated by alcohol. Even over-the-counter drugs or prescription medicine can impact your ability to drive and lead to criminal charges.
You can also be charged while driving under the influence of illicit drugs and cannabis.
While cannabis is legal in Canada, the Criminal Code makes it 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.
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 50mg or more of alcohol per 100 ml of blood and 2.5 ng or more of THC per ml of blood.
It should also be noted that impaired driving is not limited to the operation of a motor vehicle. You can be charged for being in control of a boat, snowmobile or off-road vehicles.
Mandatory Alcohol Screening
Police have the right to demand that a driver provide a breath sample without having a reasonable suspicion that they have consumed alcohol, following federal legislation that was introduced in December 2018. In explaining the change, the Department of Justice research suggested that up to 50 percent of drivers with a BAC above the legal limit may not be detected at roadside check stops. They reason that mandatory alcohol screening (MAS) "is a proven traffic safety measure that will deter and better detect alcohol-impaired drivers," stating rates of impaired driving and fatal accidents were "significantly reduced" in jurisdictions where it was introduced.
Prior to MAS, police could only demand a roadside breath test if there was reasonable proof a driver had been drinking, such as slurred speech.
Consequences of Impaired Driving
If you are caught driving impaired, your licence will immediately be suspended for 24 hours or 90 days, depending on the circumstances. Your vehicle will be seized and impounded at your expense for 30 days.
If you are convicted in court, your licence will be suspended for a minimum of one year, and you will be fined a minimum of $1,000.
You may also be required to undergo and pay for alcohol and risk assessments. If you are at risk for alcohol or drug abuse, you must undergo a more extensive assessment. If the initial assessment shows no sign of substance dependency, you will be required to complete the Alcoferin program – which educates drivers on the dangers of drinking and driving – to have your licence reinstated.
An alcohol ignition interlock device, which prevents your vehicle from starting if it detects alcohol in your system, will be installed at your cost. Court will decide how long it stays on.
Refusing to provide a breath sample will not prevent police from charging you.
In Quebec, refusing to obey the orders of a peace officer will result in:
- an immediate licence suspension for 90 days;
- the immediate seizure and impoundment of your vehicle for 30 days, or 90 days for a repeat offence;
- referral to a program to access and reduce the risk of impaired driving;
- possible installation of an alcohol ignition interlock device; and
- revocation of your driver's licence and imposition of conditions to meet to obtain a new licence upon conviction.
Repeat Offenders are Dealt with Harshly
If you are arrested for impaired driving a second time within 10 years of your first conviction, the penalties under the Highway Safety Code and the Criminal Code include an immediate 90-day licence suspension. Your vehicle will also be seized and impounded for 90 days.
Following a criminal conviction, you will be required to attend a program to assess and reduce the risk of impaired driving. Your licence will be revoked for three to five years, and you will be jailed for a minimum of 30 days.
An alcohol ignition interlock device will be installed and remain on your vehicle for life. You can apply to have it removed after 10 years in the case of a first repeat offence.
A third charge within 10 years will result in a 90-day immediate licence suspension and vehicle impoundment. If you are convicted in court, there is a three-to-five-year licence revocation, a minimum 120 jail term and installation of an alcohol ignition interlock device for life. You will not be permitted to apply to have it removed early.
You will also be prohibited from registering, acquiring, renting or leasing a vehicle or putting a vehicle into operation under your name.
Zero-Alcohol Rule for New Drivers
If you have a probationary licence and you are caught with any amount of drugs or alcohol in your system, you will be fined $300 to $600 and assessed four demerit points. Your driver's licence will be immediately suspended for 90 days.
You will also face the same consequences as a regularly licensed driver if your BAC is 0.80 or more.