Last Updated: December 10, 2010
Mixing driving with drug or alcohol use causes very serious harm and threatens the safety and well-being of the community. The most serious laws that control drinking and driving as well as drugged driving are found in the federal Criminal Code.
Over .08, or "zero eight", is the common name for the criminal offence of driving with a blood-alcohol level over .08%. The offence is sometimes referred to as "over 80", meaning that a driver has more than 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. A person does not actually have to be driving to be charged with this offence; the offence also includes having care or control of a vehicle. Being found drunk in the driver's seat is enough for a conviction unless that person can show that they did not have care and control of the car.
The offence of driving with a blood-alcohol level of more than .08% carries minimum sentences. These minimums are the same whether the offence is treated as a summary conviction or an indictable offence. Under the Criminal Code, a first offence carries a fine of at least $1000. A second offence leads to at least 30 days in jail, and any further offences carry a minimum sentence of a 120-day jail term. The driver also loses their licence for a certain period of time.
Maximum sentences depend on whether the offence is prosecuted as a summary conviction or an indictable offence. A summary conviction offence has a maximum of eighteen months imprisonment, while the indictable procedure can result in a jail term of up to five years. Very high blood-alcohol levels can be considered as aggravating circumstances for sentencing purposes and can result in harsher penalties.
It is a criminal offence to refuse or fail to give a sample of breath for either a roadside screening test or a breathalyzer test, or to refuse or fail to provide a blood sample when demanded. Refusal includes not blowing hard enough to give a proper sample. The possible sentences are the same as for the "over .08" offence. This offence is included with any "over .08" or impaired convictions when it comes to deciding whether the sentence is a first, second or further conviction.
Impaired driving is another offence. "Impaired" means that a person's ability to drive a vehicle has been reduced by the use of alcohol or drugs. It is an offence to drive or to have care or control of a vehicle while impaired. It is important to note that the offence is not dependant on any particular blood-alcohol level. The effect that alcohol, drugs, or a combination of the two has on a person's driving ability is the important consideration. A second important point is that a person does not have to be driving to be convicted. Just as for the "over .08" offence, being in control of a vehicle is enough.
A police officer's observations of the way that a person drove or the way that they looked and acted when stopped may be used as evidence to show that the person was driving impaired. Some of the things an officer looks for are: Was the car weaving across the road? Did the driver miss a stop sign or a red light? Does their breath smell of alcohol? Are there unusual changes to the driver's pupils? Does the driver need to lean on something to stand up? Are they unsteady? Are their eyes glassy or red and watery?
The sentences for driving while impaired are the same as those for an "over .08" offence. The minimum sentence for a first offence is a $1000 fine. An impaired driving conviction is included with any "over .08" or breathalyzer refusal convictions in deciding if an offence is a first, second or further conviction.
A person who drives while impaired and injures someone else commits an indictable offence. The minimum sentences are the same as those given for an "over .08" offence, but the maximum sentence can be 10 years imprisonment. The maximum sentence for an impaired driver who causes the death of another person is life imprisonment.ISBN/ISSN number: 1918-1728