Consequences of conviction
NOTE: Criminal Code amendments establishing new or modified impaired driving offences came into force on December 18, 2018. The amendments increased penalties: Penalties for New Impaired Driving, Exceed and Other Driving Crimes. For charges for offences from before December 18, 2018, that are still before the courts, the below penalties apply.
If you’ve been charged with drinking and driving, that is, over 80, impaired operation or care or control of a motor vehicle, or refuse to provide a suitable breath sample, you are liable to the following penalties upon conviction:
- For a first offence: a minimum fine of $1,000; a minimum one-year driving prohibition; in most provinces including Ontario you may be able to drive after three months if you install an alcohol ignition-interlock device. In Ontario you are eligible to drive after three months with an interlock device only if you plead guilty; if you are found guilty after trial, the minimum suspension period is six months. See news story.
- For a second offence: a minimum jail sentence of 30 days; a minimum driving prohibition of two years; in Ontario, a three-year licence suspension if the prior conviction was registered within the last 10 years (the suspension starts upon conviction); in some provinces (not Ontario), you may be able to drive after six months if you install an alcohol ignition-interlock device. See article on jail for repeat offenders.
- For a third offence: a minimum jail sentence of 120 days; a driving prohibition of at least three years; in Ontario, a life-time suspension if the prior convictions were registered after September 30, 1993, and all convictions occur within 10 years of each other; after an assessment, a remedial program and in some instances an examination, a life-time suspension may be reduced to 10 years from the date of conviction; in some provinces (not Ontario), you may be able to drive after 12 months if you install an alcohol ignition-interlock device. See article on jail for repeat offenders.
- Four or more convictions: If you are convicted of a fourth or subsequent offence and you hold an Ontario driver’s licence your licence will be permanently suspended with no possibility of reinstatement; in determining the number of prior convictions only those registered within 10 years of each other are taken into account, or for convictions before September 30, 1993, only those that are up to five years apart; for those holding a licence issued in provinces other than Ontario, it may be possible to drive after 12 months if you install an alcohol ignition-interlock device. See article on jail for repeat offenders.
- Other driving offences and out-of-province convictions: In Ontario, convictions (or discharges) registered after September 30, 1993, for dangerous driving, flee police and fail to remain at the scene of an accident are also taken into account in determining the number of previous convictions. Convictions from other provinces are also considered. Convictions or discharges for dangerous driving, flee police and fail to remain will result in licence suspension in Ontario in the same way as a conviction for a drinking and driving offence.
- Multiple convictions: in Ontario, if you are convicted of two or more Criminal Code driving offences relating to the same incident, such as Impaired Driving and Refuse Breath Sample, your licence will be suspended as if there had been a single conviction. Thus, if you have no prior convictions, you will lose your licence for one year only. (This is so even if the offences relate to separate incidents occurring the same day, such as Fail to Remain at the Scene of an Accident or Dangerous Driving followed by a drink drive charge, provided the convictions are entered the same day at the same court.) However, if the offences arise out of separate incidents on different dates your licence will be suspended for one year for the first conviction and three for the second. The suspensions run from the conviction date and are not consecutive. (Exception: a suspension for Drive Disqualified runs consecutive to any other suspensions.)
- Twice the legal limit: The courts may impose a harsher penalty on drivers who register a blood alcohol level in excess of 160 mg per cent, that is, over twice the legal limit.
- Note: The court-imposed driving prohibition runs concurrently with the licence suspension that kicks in automatically under provincial law so that, for example, a one-year prohibition for a first offence expires at the same time as the one-year suspension in Ontario. The suspension and prohibition commence upon conviction. However, the length of the prohibition is increased by any jail term to which the offender is sentenced. The provincial driving suspension is extended (at least in Ontario) so that it ends at the same time as the prohibition.
In Ontario, if you’re found guilty of Drive Disqualified or convicted of any provincial driving-related offence during the suspension period, you’ll have to wait 10 years from the date of that finding of guilt or conviction before you can drive again. (See section 32.2(c) and (d) of Ontario Regulation 340/94.)
Relief from Driving Prohibition
You can apply to the Parole Board of Canada to cancel or reduce a court-imposed driving prohibition. You’ll need to show the prohibition is causing undue hardship and altering or removing it would not place the community at risk. You’re eligible to apply 10 years from the order’s start in the case of a prohibition for life, or five years if the prohibition is for more than five years but less than life. In any other case, you can apply to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness for clemency. See SCHEDULE A: Remedies under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy.
Under reciprocity accords, a New York State or Michigan driver’s licence will be suspended following a conviction in Ontario for drinking and driving in Ontario.
Authorities in other states could be informed if drinking and driving charges are laid in Canada against the holder of a U.S. driver’s licence. For example, in Ontario, police could seize the driver’s licence of an American charged with driving with excess alcohol or refusal to provide a breath sample. On receiving the licence, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation could return it to the department of transportation for the issuing state and advise it of the reason for the seizure.
If you are a U.S. citizen or visitor to Canada convicted of a drinking and driving offence in Canada, see information on immigration impact.
If you are convicted of drinking and driving, your fingerprints and photographs will be retained by the RCMP in Ottawa. And the next time you’re pulled over, your record will show up when police run a routine check.
A conviction also means you will have a criminal record which could hurt your employment and restrict your ability to travel. However, it should not prevent you from visiting the United States as generally it is not a crime of moral turpitude under U.S. immigration law.
Travel to the United States
If you are planning a trip to the U.S., as a precaution carry a certified true copy of the information (court document) relating to the conviction and a copy of the Criminal Code section under which you were convicted.
It is wise also to have a letter from your doctor stating you are not addicted to alcohol or drugs. If available, bring a certified true transcript of the evidence underlying your conviction as well.
Your motor vehicle insurance rates will skyrocket after a conviction. In Ontario, you will probably be required to insure with Facility Association which insures high-risk drivers and exacts high premiums. For each of the three years following your conviction, Facility Association will levy a 100 per cent surcharge atop your premiums. It will impose more surcharges, up to a maximum of 250 per cent for other convictions relating to the same incident such as careless driving or fail to remain at the scene of an accident. Each insurance company has its own conviction surcharge schedule.
Administrative driver’s licence suspension (ADLS)
Ontario drivers who register a blood-alcohol reading of over 80 mg. in 100 ml. of blood or refuse or fail to provide a breath sample have their licence immediately suspended for 90 days. Other provinces have similar schemes. The 90-day suspension is not a criminal penalty; no finding of guilt is required before it takes effect.
In Ontario, the Ministry of Transportation mails you a reinstatement notice eight days before the end of the suspension period. To get your licence back you must attend at a Ministry of Transportation office with two pieces of government-issued ID to confirm your identity and pay a $150 “monetary penalty.”
The suspension may lead to imposition of an insurance surcharge. In Ontario, if you successfully defend the charge that led to the suspension, provide a certified copy of the information (charging document) to your insurance company. Upon renewal of your policy, the surcharge should be removed. The Financial Services Commission of Ontario has issued a bulletin on this issue.
First offenders and repeat offenders (persons with a prior conviction in the last 10 years) must be assessed and finish an 8-hour education program or 16 hours of treatment. A follow-up interview is conducted six months later, with the result that the program takes about eight months to complete. You are advised to commence the program early to ensure licence reinstatement without delay upon lapse of your licence suspension and driving prohibition.
If you have completed the remedial program and paid the $150 reinstatement fee, the Ministry of Transportation mails you a new licence at the end of the suspension period.
For more information see Back on Track.
Anyone convicted in Ontario of a drinking and driving offence must install an ignition interlock in their vehicle once their driving privileges are restored. Before starting the car, the driver must blow into the device. If an impermissible level of alcohol is detected, the car will not start.
Persons charged with a first offence in Ontario who plead guilty within 90 days of being charged may be able to drive after three months with an interlock device and apply to remove it after a minimum of nine months. If they are sentenced more than 90 days after being charged, they must wait at least six months before being able to drive with an interlock and can apply for its removal after waiting at least one year. For more information on the ignition interlock program see Ignition interlock available to Ontario impaired drivers.
Anyone convicted of a second offence must wait at least three years before being able to drive with the interlock and can apply to have it removed after a minimum period of three years.
A driver with more than two convictions must install the device permanently.
How to avoid the interlock
You can avoid the ignition interlock by sitting out the period of interlock requirement. You must delay the resumption of driving until one year after the expiry of your driving prohibition in the case of a first offence and three in the case of a second. You should complete the Back on Track remedial program and pay the licence reinstatement fee as soon as possible as the interlock period commences only once you’ve done so.
Avoid apple fritters
Avoid apple fritters and bagged carrots if you have to drive with an interlock device. It appears that foods capable of even slight fermentation produce enough mouth alcohol to trigger the interlock. Also keep away from alcohol-based mouthwash or spray and breath fresheners.
In Ontario, under an amendment to the Civil Remedies Act that took effect February 20, 2008, anyone whose licence has been suspended two or more times in the past 10 years for an alcohol-related driving crime is liable to have his or her vehicle forfeited to the Crown.