Impaired Driving in Ontario: Know the Laws, Risks & Penalties

Picture this: You’re out with friends, enjoying a few drinks. You feel fine to drive, but are you? In Ontario, impaired driving is a serious offense with grave consequences. It’s not just about getting caught; it’s about putting lives at risk, including your own.

I want to walk you through the ins and outs of impaired driving laws in Ontario. From blood alcohol limits to the penalties you face, if charged, I’ll cover it all. Because here’s the thing: Impaired driving is 100% preventable. Understanding the risks and repercussions is the first step to making smarter choices.

Ready to learn what you need to know about impaired driving in Ontario? Let’s dive in.

Impaired Driving in Ontario

Understanding Impaired Driving Laws in Ontario

Impaired driving laws in Ontario are no joke. Trust me, as a DUI lawyer who’s seen it all; I can tell you that getting behind the wheel while under the influence of drugs or alcohol is a surefire way to land yourself in hot water. In this province, impaired driving is governed by the Criminal Code of Canada and the Ontario Highway Traffic Act. The Criminal Code outlines the severe penalties for impaired driving, while the HTA tacks on additional sanctions.

Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) Limits

When it comes to alcohol, the magic number is 0.08. If your blood alcohol concentration hits that level or higher, you’re considered legally impaired under the Criminal Code. But even if you’re in the “warn range” of 0.05 to 0.079, you can still face penalties under Ontario’s laws.

Prescription and Illegal Drugs

It’s not just alcohol that can get you in trouble. Driving under the influence of drugs, whether they’re prescription medications or illegal substances, is also a big no-no. If a cop suspects drugs impair you, you could be facing criminal charges.

Criminal Code Provisions

The Criminal Code doesn’t mess around when it comes to impaired driving. Penalties can include hefty fines, license suspensions, and even jail time. And if you cause bodily harm or death while driving impaired, the consequences are even more severe.

Consequences of Impaired Driving Charges in Ontario

So, what happens if you’re caught driving while impaired in Ontario? Buckle up because it’s not a fun ride.

License Suspensions and Reinstatement

First off, you can kiss goodbye to your licence. If you’re charged with an impaired driving offense, your license will be suspended immediately. The length of the suspension depends on factors like your BAC level and whether it’s your first offense or not. To get your licence back, you’ll need to complete an education or treatment program, pay reinstatement fees, and possibly install an ignition interlock device in your car.

Vehicle Impoundment

But wait, there’s more. Your car could also be impounded for some time. For a first offence, you’re looking at a 7-day vehicle impoundment. Repeat offenders could have their ride locked up for even longer.

Ignition Interlock Devices

Even after you get your licence back, you might have to install an ignition interlock device in your car. This lovely little gadget requires you to provide a breath sample before your vehicle starts. If there’s any alcohol detected, your car isn’t going anywhere.

Mandatory Education and Treatment Programs

In addition to the above, you’ll likely have to complete a mandatory education or treatment program before you can hit the road again. These programs aim to teach you about the dangers of impaired driving and help you make better choices in the future.

Penalties for First-Time Impaired Driving Offenses in Ontario

Alright, let’s say it’s your first time being caught driving while impaired. Here’s what you can expect:

Warn Range Penalties

If your BAC is in the “warn range” of 0.05 to 0.079, you’ll face some warning range penalties. For a first offence, that means a 3-day licence suspension and a $250 fine. You’ll also have to attend an education or treatment program.

Roadside Licence Suspension

If you’re caught with a BAC over 0.08 or fail a sobriety test, you’re looking at an immediate 90-day roadside licence suspension. This suspension is separate from any criminal charges you may face.

Vehicle Impoundment

In addition to the licence suspension, your vehicle will be impounded for seven days. And guess what? You’re on the hook for any towing and storage fees. Ouch.

Education and Treatment Programs

To get your licence back, you’ll need to complete the “Back on Track” education and treatment program. This program takes about 11 months to complete and costs around $600. That’s a small price to pay for the privilege of driving again, right? So there you have it, folks. Impaired driving laws and penalties in Ontario are no laughing matter. Take it from a DUI lawyer who’s seen the devastating consequences firsthand – it’s just not worth the risk. Call a cab, crash on a friend’s couch, do whatever you gotta do. Just don’t get behind the wheel if you’re impaired. Trust me on this one.

Escalating Penalties for Repeat Impaired Driving Offenses

If you thought the penalties for a first-time impaired driving charge in Ontario were harsh, just wait until you see the consequences for repeat offenders. It’s a slippery slope, my friend. The more times you’re caught driving under the influence, the steeper the penalties become. And trust me, you don’t want to be sliding down that treacherous path.

Second Offense Penalties

Get caught driving impaired a second time within ten years? Brace yourself for a mandatory minimum of 30 days imprisonment. That’s right, you’ll be trading in your driver’s seat for a jail cell. But that’s not all. Your licence will be suspended for a whopping three years. Kiss your freedom to drive goodbye for a long, long time. And if you thought you could skirt around the system, think again. You’ll be required to complete an intensive treatment program and have an ignition interlock device installed in your vehicle for seven years. That’s seven years of blowing into a breathalyzer whenever you want to start your car.

Third Offense Penalties

Three strikes, and you’re out. A third impaired driving conviction within ten years comes with harsher penalties that will make your head spin. We’re talking a minimum of 120 days imprisonment. That’s four months of your life spent behind bars. And your licence? Consider it gone for life—a third offense results in a lifetime suspension of your driving privileges. But wait, there’s more. You’ll also be required to complete a treatment program and have an ignition interlock device installed in your vehicle for life. That’s right, for the rest of your days, you’ll need to prove your sobriety every time you want to drive.

Mandatory Minimum Sentences

The Criminal Code of Canada doesn’t mess around regarding repeat-impaired driving offenders. The mandatory minimum sentences are etched in stone and cannot be reduced by a judge. You’re considering a minimum of 30 days imprisonment for a second offense. And for a third offense, that number jumps to 120 days. No amount of smooth-talking or legal maneuvering can change that.

Extended Licence Suspensions

Repeat impaired drivers in Ontario face extended licence suspensions that will put a severe damper on their ability to get around. A second offense within ten years? Say goodbye to your license for three years. And if you’re foolish enough to get caught a third time, you can kiss your driving privileges goodbye for life. But here’s the kicker. If you install an ignition interlock device and complete a treatment program, you can score a conditional licence after serving a portion of your suspension. But is it worth the hassle?

Detecting and Preventing Impaired Driving in Ontario

Impaired driving is a serious issue in Ontario, and law enforcement officers are always on the lookout for those who choose to get behind the wheel while under the influence of alcohol and drugs. But how do they spot an impaired driver? And what can you do to avoid becoming a statistic? Let’s dive in and take a closer look.

Field Sobriety Tests

If a police officer suspects a driver is impaired, they may ask them to perform field sobriety tests. These tests assess a driver’s balance, coordination, and ability to follow instructions. Common tests include the walk-and-turn test, where the driver is asked to walk heel-to-toe in a straight line, and the one-leg stand test, where the driver must balance on one foot for a set period. If drivers fail these tests, they’re impaired and shouldn’t be behind the wheel.

Standardized Field Sobriety Tests

In addition to the standard field sobriety tests, Ontario police officers may also use Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) to determine if a driver is impaired. These more in-depth tests include the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, which looks for involuntary eye movements that can indicate impairment, and the walk-and-turn and one-leg stand tests. SFSTs are scientifically validated and are highly effective in detecting impairment caused by alcohol and drugs.

Drug Screening Methods

With the legalization of cannabis in Canada, drug-impaired driving has become a growing concern. To combat this issue, Ontario police are now equipped with approved drug screening equipment that can detect the presence of drugs in a driver’s system. Officers who are trained as Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) can also conduct a 12-step evaluation to determine if a driver is under the influence of drugs. This evaluation includes a series of physical tests and observations that can help identify the specific drug or drugs that a driver has consumed. If a driver fails a drug screening test or is deemed impaired by a DRE, they can face the same penalties as those who are caught driving under the influence of alcohol.

Impaired Driving Charges for Different Vehicle Types

Regarding impaired driving laws in Ontario, it doesn’t matter what kind of vehicle you’re operating. If you’re impaired, you’re breaking the law and can face serious consequences. However, the penalties for impaired driving can vary depending on the type of vehicle you’re driving. Let’s take a closer look at some of the different categories.

Commercial Vehicles

If you’re caught driving a commercial vehicle, such as a truck or bus, while impaired, you can expect to face some pretty hefty penalties. For a first offense, you’re considering a 3-day licence suspension and a requirement to complete a remedial program. But if you’re a repeat offender, you could face longer suspensions and even have your commercial vehicle operator’s registration (CVOR) revoked. That means you could lose your ability to operate a commercial vehicle altogether. And for many people, that’s their livelihood on the line.

Off-Road Vehicles

Just because you’re not on a public road doesn’t mean you’re exempt from impaired driving laws. In Ontario, it’s illegal to operate off-road vehicles, such as ATVs and snowmobiles, while under the influence of alcohol and drugs. If caught driving an off-road vehicle while impaired, you can face licence suspensions, fines, and even imprisonment. And if you cause an accident or injure someone while impaired, the consequences can be even more severe.

Boats and Watercraft

Impaired driving laws in Ontario don’t just apply to land vehicles. It’s also illegal to operate a boat or watercraft while under the influence of alcohol and drugs. You can face license suspensions, fines, and even jail time if caught operating a boat while impaired. And the penalties for impaired boating can also affect your driving privileges. So, if you’re planning a day out on the water, make sure you have a designated driver who can safely operate the boat. And if you’re the one behind the wheel, stay sober and stay safe.


Penalties include fines, licence suspension, vehicle impoundment, and mandatory education programs. Repeat offenses bring harsher penalties.

The main types are alcohol impairment (BAC over the legal limit), drug impairment (illegal or prescription drugs), and combined alcohol/drug use.

You may be subject to roadside licence suspension, vehicle impoundment, fines, and required participation in education or treatment programs.

A first offense results in at least 90 days' suspension. Penalties escalate with repeat offenses, including longer suspensions.