Blog Impaired Driving In Ontario

Jul 27, 2022

What you need to know about impaired driving penalties

car keys beside shot glasses with alcohol

Impaired driving is not only dangerous, but it can also ruin lives. However, many drivers in Ontario continue to drive while impaired, and accidents remain a road safety threat.

While much work has been done, there is still a way to go. If you do your part, you can help make our roads safer.

In this blog, we’ll discuss impaired driving in Ontario. We’ll provide impaired driving definitions and discuss laws, penalties and statistics. Get essential information all drivers must be aware of before getting behind the wheel.

What is impaired driving?

Impaired driving is a serious offence. It refers to two main types of impairment – drug impairment and alcohol impairment. Driving with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher is a criminal offence. You also face the consequences if compound BAC is between 0.05 and 0.08. The term that encompasses many impairments, such as driving high.

Driving while impaired puts people at risk, increases your chances of getting into an accident, and could even land you in jail, not to mention the severe insurance consequences. The criminal code of Canada and each province have laws prohibiting impaired driving.

Is impaired driving a criminal offence in Canada?

Yes. There are provincial and federal laws outlawing impaired driving. You face criminal charges at the federal level, and you also face penalties for breaking provincial driving laws.

Impaired Driving Criminal Code Definition

Is impaired driving an indictable offence in Canada? Yes, impaired driving is a crime. The definition of impaired driving under Section 253 of the Criminal Code of Canada is as follows :

253 (1) - Everyone commits an offence who operates a motor vehicle or vessel or operates or assists in the operation of an aircraft or of railway equipment or has the care or control of a motor vehicle, vessel, aircraft or railway equipment, whether it is in motion or not:

  • (A) while the person’s ability to operate the vehicle, vessel, aircraft or railway equipment is impaired by alcohol or a drug; or
  • (B) having consumed alcohol in such a quantity that the concentration in the person’s blood exceeds eighty milligrams of alcohol in one hundred millilitres of blood.

Impaired driving definition by the Ontario Ministry of Transportation :

"Impaired driving means operating a vehicle (including cars, trucks, boats, snowmobiles and off-road vehicles) while under the influence of alcohol or drugs."

While the definition of what constitutes drinking and driving is clear, there is ongoing research and debate about the definition of drug-impaired driving.

How long does impaired driving stay on your record in Ontario?

In Ontario, an impaired driving charge will stay on your driving record for three years. It will take ten years to remove the conviction from your criminal history.

Can you go to jail for impaired driving?

You can go to jail for impaired driving. Depending on what the charge and offence are, it will determine the length. For example, if it is your third impaired driving offence, and your BAC is over 80mg, you could face 120 days minimum jail time. If you cause bodily harm, you could face a maximum of 14 years in jail for impaired driving.

How does impaired driving affect insurance?

An impaired driving conviction will significantly impact your rates, how you are classified, and your ability to get coverage. Expect your car insurance to skyrocket with an impaired driving charge. Your rates can increase by up to 5 times your average premiums or more.

Impaired drivers are riskier because they are more likely to be repeat offenders. MADD Canada reports 30% of drivers with an impaired conviction get another within 10 years.

You may have issues getting covered if you are convicted of an impaired driving charge. You could be denied coverage or require high risk insurance.

It's also important to remember that if you are intoxicated and cause an accident, your insurer will not cover you. On the other hand, if a motorist is intoxicated and causes an accident, you will be covered.

What is the difference between impaired driving and DUI?

Many people assume impaired driving and DUI are the same. DUI is one of the many types of impaired driving that focuses on drinking and driving and may cause you to need a DUI insurance. Impaired driving reflects a person's ability to operate equipment (vehicle, boat, plane, railway) while impaired by drugs or alcohol.

What can impair driving?

There are three main types of impaired driving, each of which can impact your ability to drive :

  • Drinking and driving : This is the most commonly associated form of impaired driving.
  • Drug-impaired driving : The use of legal and illegal drugs before or while driving can cause impairment.
  • Prescription medication : This is often overlooked, but taking prescription medication can impact your ability to drive as much as drugs and alcohol.

Other things impairing your driving ability include lack of sleep, distracted driving, and texting and driving.

Person driving, fuzzy lights around road

Laws for impaired driving in Ontario

As of December 18, 2018, Canada has new impaired driving and driving laws. The Government of Canada introduced changes to impaired driving laws in Canada, giving law enforcement new powers. Changes to both drug and alcohol impaired driving were introduced. The changes included in the legislation include :

  • Mandatory alcohol breathalyzer testing : Police will now have the authority to demand a breath sample from any driver they stop. They no longer require reasonable suspicion. You can be charged if you refuse to take the roadside test.
  • No more bolus drinking defence : If the past, drivers could argue they consumed alcohol just before driving and it was not absorbed. This defence is eliminated.
  • Oral fluid samples : Police have the authority to demand oral fluid samples (saliva) if they suspect the driver is impaired from drugs. A positive test could lead to further testing, such as a blood test.
  • Drug-impaired fines : Drivers with two nanograms but less than five nanograms of THC per millilitre of blood could face a fine of up to $1,000. More than five nanograms or mixing drugs with alcohol could lead to more significant fines and possible jail time.

The new laws also increase the maximum fines for most alcohol impaired offences. Changes to the interlock program and other changes were also proposed.

What are the penalties for impaired driving?

There are a variety of penalties for impaired driving. Your impaired driving penalties will depend upon whether you’ve been convicted of impaired driving in the past. Being convicted of impaired driving could lead to :

  • License : The loss of your driver’s licence.
  • Impound : You could have your vehicle impounded.
  • Fees : You may need to pay an administrative monetary penalty.
  • Treatment programs : You may need to go to an educational treatment program.
  • Fines : Receive a fine upon conviction.
  • Ignition interlock : You may be required to install an ignition interlock device in order to drive your vehicle.
  • Jail time : You could be sentenced to time in jail for your conviction.
  • Criminal record : You could get a criminal record.

Laws for impaired driving in Canada

The criminal code of Canada impaired driving penalties and fines vary based on the charge and offence. Repeat offenders face greater fines, penalties, and jail time. These penalties are in addition to provincial impaired driving laws. The criminal code of Canada impaired driving penalties are as follows as outlined by the Department of Justice :

Alcohol Impairment


  • Alcohol-impaired driving
  • Having a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) at or over 80mg per 100ml of blood within 2 hours of driving.


  • 1st offence : Mandatory minimum $1000 fine; Maximum 10 years imprisonment
  • 2nd offence : Mandatory minimum 30 days imprisonment; Maximum 10 years imprisonment
  • 3rd offence : Mandatory minimum 120 days imprisonment; Maximum 10 years imprisonment

Drug Impairment


  • Drug-impaired driving
  • Having 5ng or more of THC per ml of blood within 2 hours of driving.
  • Any detectable level of LSD, psilocybin, psilocin, ketamine, PCP, cocaine, methamphetamine, 6-mam within 2 hours of driving.
  • Having 5mg or more of GHB per 1 litre of blood within 2 hours of driving.


  • 1st offence : Mandatory minimum $1000 fine; Maximum 10 years imprisonment.
  • 2nd offence : Mandatory minimum 30 days imprisonment; Maximum 10 years imprisonment.
  • 3rd offence : Mandatory minimum 120 days imprisonment; Maximum 10 years imprisonment.

Combination of alcohol and drug impairment


  • Having a BAC of 50mg per 100ml of blood + 2.5ng or more of THC per 1ml of blood within 2 hours of driving.


  • 1st offence : Mandatory minimum $1000 fine; Maximum 10 years imprisonment
  • 2nd offence : Mandatory minimum 30 days imprisonment; Maximum 10 years imprisonment
  • 3rd offence : Mandatory minimum 120 days imprisonment; Maximum 10 years imprisonment

Impaired driving convictions in Ontario

The fines and penalties for impaired driving in Ontario vary. If you have a BAC of 0.05 to 0.08, you are considered in the warn range and will face administrative penalties. If you have a BAC of 0.08 or higher and are convicted you face a different set of penalties. The MTO outlines penalties for impaired driving convictions :

First Conviction

  • 3 day licence suspension
  • $250 fine

Second Offence Within 5 Years

  • 7 day licence suspension
  • $350 fine
  • Mandatory education program

Third And Subsequent Offences Within 5 Years

  • 30 day licence suspension
  • $450 fine
  • Mandatory treatment program
  • Ignition interlock device for at least six months
  • Mandatory medical evaluation to see if you meet requirements to drive in Ontario

Drug-impaired driving - summary conviction

Here are the charges and penalties for drug impaired driving :

  • Charge : Having over 2ng but less than 5ng of THC per ml of blood within 2 hours of driving.
    • Penalty : Maximum $1000 fine
  • Charge : Impaired driving causing bodily harm
    • Penalty : Maximum 2 years imprisonment less a day. If you are indicted you face a maximum of 14 years in jail.
  • Charge : Impaired driving causing death
    • Penalty : Maximum life imprisonment
  • Charge : 1st offence + BAC of 80-119 ml
    • Penalty : Mandatory minimum $1000 fine
  • Charge : 1st offence + BAC of 120-159 ml
    • Penalty : Mandatory minimum $1500 fine
  • Charge : 1st offence + BAC of 160 mg or more
    • Penalty : Mandatory minimum $2000 fine

Impaired driving penalties for commercial vehicle drivers

You cannot have any drugs or alcohol in your system if you drive a commercial vehicle. You will face the penalties below and additional penalties for impairment, just like any fully-licenced driver. You’ll also have to pay a licence reinstatement fee every time your licence is suspended.

First offence

  • 3-day immediate roadside licence suspension
  • $250 penalty

Second offence

  • 3-day immediate roadside licence suspension
  • education or treatment program
  • $350 penalty

Third offence

  • 3-day immediate roadside licence suspension
  • education or treatment program
  • Ignition interlock condition for six months
  • $450 penalty
Pints on a table

What are the penalties for refusing a roadside sobriety test?

Refusal to take a BAC roadside test or if a drug recognition evaluator determines you are impaired can result in serious penalties. It is a criminal offence under Criminal Code section 320.15(1) to refuse to provide a roadside SFST, breath test, or oral fluid sample. Minimum penalties include :

  • Minimum $2000 fine for a first offence
  • Second offence means imprisonment for a term of 30 days
  • Third and subsequent offence is imprisonment for a term of 120 days
  • If convicted, the driver will serve a jail term of a minimum of 30 days and up to 10 years.

    Under the Highway Traffic Act, a driver can also be fined :

    • 90 day licence suspension
    • Vehicle impoundment for 7 days
    • $550 fine
    • $281 licence reinstatement fee
    • Mandatory treatment program
    • Use of an ignition interlock device for 6 months (if it’s your third occurrence within 10 years)

    Impaired driving statistics in Canada

    Statistics Canada’s most recent report on impaired driving, Impaired Driving in Canada, 2015, provides a great overview of impaired driving facts and stats. Here is what the report found :

    • Impaired driving is down : Police reported 72,039 impaired driving incidents in 2015, the lowest since 1986. In 2016, there were about 70,000 incidents. In 2017, there were 69,000.
    • Drug-impaired driving is up : 3000 incidents were reported, double the amount in 2009. There were about 3000 incidents in 2016, and 3500 in 2017.
    • Ontario leading the way : Ontario, along with Quebec and Manitoba, has the lowest instances of impaired driving among all provinces and territories.
    • 1 in 6 : Are repeat offenders.
    • Night time occurrence : About half of impaired driving instances occurred between 11pm and 4am.
    • Young drivers have the highest rates : Drivers aged 20-24 have the highest impaired driving rates at 480 incidents per 100,000 drivers.
    • Males the most likely culprits : 80% of those charged with impaired driving are male. However, the number of females charged (20%) has increased over the past three decades.

    "In spite of a decline in impaired driving rates over the past 30 years, impaired driving still remains one of the most frequent criminal offences and is among the leading criminal causes of death in Canada. In addition, while alcohol-impaired driving is down over the past several decades, drug-impaired driving is on the rise."

    Impaired driving facts from MADD Canada

    According a research report by MADD Canada, Total Crash Deaths Involving Alcohol and/or Drugs in Canada, by Jurisdiction, 2012 :

    • Impaired is a daily occurrence : About four people are killed each day in crashes involving alcohol and/or drugs.
    • Impaired is a leading factor in traffic fatalities : Of the traffic accidents resulting in death in 2012, 58.8% involved drivers who had some alcohol and/or drug presence in their systems.

    According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control, Canada is the leader of the drunk driving death rate among wealthy countries. According to the report, 34% of vehicle deaths in Canada were due to alcohol impairment. This is 3% higher than the United States (31%) and New Zealand (31%).

    "Countries with the lowest percentage of fatal crashes tied to alcohol were Israel (3.2 per cent), Japan (6.2 per cent), and Austria (6.8 per cent)," says Douglas Quan on National Post.

    How do police detect impaired drivers?

    Police use various tests to assess drivers' sobriety. In Ontario, they use these four tests :

    • Field sobriety test : If police suspect impairment, they will perform a roadside standardized field sobriety test.
    • Breath testing : Police can demand a breath sample from any drivers they stop. This is used to determine a drivers BAC.
    • Drug recognition evaluation : If an officer believes drugs impair a driver the driver will be required to take a test at the police station. The test assesses drug impairment.
    • Approved drug screening devices : Police can demand an oral fluid sample to assess drug impairment.

    Impaired driving and new and young drivers

    There is zero tolerance for driving and driving and drug impaired driving for new drivers. New and young drivers in Ontario are not permitted to have any alcohol or drugs. This applies to all drivers with a G1 or G2 drivers licence. They will receive fines and penalties even if trace amounts are in their system. You must have a 0.00% BAC when driving, even if you are legal drinking age.

    Impaired driving causing death, bodily harm

    Impaired driving laws become more severe if you cause harm to others. Here is a look at the charges and penalties :

    • Impaired driving causing bodily harm : If convicted, you could face a minimum of two years and up to 10 years in jail. If indicted, there is maximum 14 years imprisonment.
    • Impaired driving causing death : If indicted, you could face imprisonment for life.

    What is the back on track program?

    If you are convicted of impaired driving, you will be required to complete the Back On Track Program. This includes if you were convicted of driving while impaired by drugs. You can register for the program online and attend in person at a location in your city.

    You will be required to complete an Education Workshop and a Treatment Workshop. The program takes 16 hours to complete. The cost of the program is $634. If you do not complete the program your licence will remain suspended.

    How can I avoid driving while impaired?

    It’s important to never put yourself in situations where you could get behind the wheel when impaired. Here are some common sense tips to help you avoid driving while impaired :

    • Be responsible : Make the decision to not drive if you’ve been drinking or using drugs.
    • Have a plan : Always have a plan to get home safely. Plan ahead of time before you go out for the evening.
    • Use a designated driver : Agree upon a designated driver before you start drinking.
    • Call a driver service : Call a taxi, Uber, Lyft, or designated driver service to get home.
    • Stay the night : Make arrangements to stay at a friend or families home or book a hotel.

    You can also help prevent others from driving while impaired. Don’t allow others to drive if they have been drinking. If you suspect a driver to be impaired, notify the police. Taking these steps can help keep our roads safe.

    Ontario Impaired Driving FAQs

    Drivers have a lot of questions related to impaired driving rules, laws, penalties and consequences. Here are the most common :

    Impaired driving will affect your auto insurance for 6 years. During this time, you pay much higher rates.

    Contrary to what you may think, there are no demerit points for impaired driving in Ontario. Impaired falls under the Criminal Code of Canada. There may be demerit points for other moving violations related to an impaired charge.

    Blood alcohol concentration is something you hear about in relation to drunk driving. Blood alcohol concentration means the amount of alcohol a person has in their bloodstream at a given time.

    A BAC of 0.08% means your blood supply has 0.08 parts of alcohol for every 1000 parts of blood. As your BAC increases, so does your level of impairment.

    When a person has a BAC of 0.05%, they can experience minor impairments related to memory and reasoning. It can impair your ability to drive. At 0.05%, you have 50 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood in your system. It also means you have reached the warm level.