Road Safety Information

Alcohol Impaired Driving

Last Updated on October 12, 2021

The effects of alcohol on drivers are delays in identifying and responding to danger. Alcohol also increases drowsiness and the likelihood of falling asleep at the wheel.

Prevalence:

In 2019, according to investigating police officers, 18 percent of traffic fatalities involved a driver who was under the influence of alcohol, a decrease of 14 percent from the 21 percent figure reported in 2008. Also, in 2017, the Traffic Injury Research Foundation reported that coroners determined that 25 percent of drivers killed in fatal collisions in Canada had been drinking, 26 percent lower than the 32 percent figure reported in 2008.[1]Brown, S., Vanlaar, W., and Robertson, R. (2021). The Alcohol and Drug-Crash Problem in Canada: 2017. Report prepared for the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators.

Night-time roadside surveys conducted in 2017 and 2018 in five Canadian jurisdictions (British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Yukon, and Northwest Territories) found that 4 percent of drivers tested positive for alcohol.[2]Beirness, D. J. (2020). A Compilation of Jurisdictional Roadside Surveys Conducted Prior to Cannabis Legalization. Report prepared for Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators. A 2018 survey in British Columbia estimated that 4.9 percent of drivers had been drinking compared to 6.5 percent in 2012, a reduction of 25 percent.[3]Beirness, D. J. and Beasley, E.E. (2019) Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers in British Columbia: Findings from the 2018 Roadside Survey, Beirness & Associates, Inc. In an Ontario roadside survey, the percentage of drivers who were reported to have been drinking was about the same in 2014 and in 2017 at 4 percent.[4]Beirness, D. J. (2018) Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers in Ontario: Findings from the 2017 Roadside Survey, Beirness & Associates, Inc.

Countermeasures:

Sections of the Criminal Code of Canada (CCC) make driving impaired by alcohol, as determined by the police based on impaired behaviour or a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 80 mg of alcohol in 1000 ml of blood or over, a criminal offence. Conviction for such an offence can result in heavy fines, licence suspension, and even jail. Convicted drivers can reduce the length of their licence suspension if they agree to have their vehicle fitted with an alcohol ignition interlock device which prevents the vehicle from being started if a mandatory breath sample indicates the driver had been drinking. Furthermore, most provinces/territories require that drivers convicted of impaired driving participate in alcohol/drug assessment and treatment/education programs prior to getting their licence back.

In addition to the CCC, most Canadian jurisdictions have administrative offences such that driving with a BAC over 50 mg of alcohol in 1000 ml of blood (60 mg in Saskatchewan) can result in short-term licence suspensions (e.g., three days), vehicle impoundment, and licence reinstatement fees.

Police Services across the country conduct regular alcohol impaired driving enforcement campaigns and can now demand a breath test from a driver at the roadside without suspecting that a crime has taken place. Awareness campaigns on alcohol-impaired driving are regularly carried out by governmental and non-governmental organizations. For example:

Alcohol Impaired Driving FAQs:

What percentage of drivers killed in vehicle crashes had been drinking alcohol?
According to coroners’ tests, it was 25 percent in 2017.
What is the prevalence of drinking and driving in Canada?
According to roadside surveys conducted in five Canadian jurisdictions (British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Yukon, and Northwest Territories) in 2017 and 2018, 4 percent of drivers tested positive for alcohol between the hours of 9:00 pm and 3:00 am.
Is driving or being in control of a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol a crime in Canada?
Yes. According to the Criminal Code of Canada (CCC) drivers who are impaired by alcohol, as determined by the police based on the driver’s behaviour or breath tests showing a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 80 mg of alcohol in 100 ml of blood or over, will receive heavy fines, license suspensions, and possible jail terms. As of 2018, the CCC makes roadside breath testing by police mandatory.
What laws exist in provinces and territories regarding driving while impaired by alcohol?
Most Canadian jurisdictions have administrative offences such that driving with a BAC over 50 mg of alcohol in 100 ml of blood (60 mg in Saskatchewan) can result in short-term license suspensions (e.g., 3 days), vehicle impoundment, and license reinstatement fees.
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References

References
1 Brown, S., Vanlaar, W., and Robertson, R. (2021). The Alcohol and Drug-Crash Problem in Canada: 2017. Report prepared for the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators.
2 Beirness, D. J. (2020). A Compilation of Jurisdictional Roadside Surveys Conducted Prior to Cannabis Legalization. Report prepared for Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators.
3 Beirness, D. J. and Beasley, E.E. (2019) Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers in British Columbia: Findings from the 2018 Roadside Survey, Beirness & Associates, Inc.
4 Beirness, D. J. (2018) Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers in Ontario: Findings from the 2017 Roadside Survey, Beirness & Associates, Inc.