Zero alcohol for young Ont. drivers

Zero alcohol for young Ont. drivers

Starting August 1, drivers in Ontario aged 21 and under must have zero alcohol or face an immediate licence suspension of 24 hours. If later convicted, they are liable to a further 30-day licence suspension and a fine of between $60 and $500 followed by a big spike in insurance rates.

Zero equals under 10

Zero alcohol is effectively under 10 mgs of alcohol in 100 ml of blood as the screening device is calibrated to register “presence of alcohol” (or other message to similar effect) only if it detects more than 9 mg of alcohol in 100 ml of blood. The device is presumed to be properly calibrated in the absence of evidence to the contrary.

Novice drivers (G1, M1, G2 and M2) were already subject to the “zero” alcohol rule and faced a 12-hour suspension. The new law raises the suspension to 24 hours.

Stiffer penalties for novice drivers

Novice drivers found driving with alcohol face the same penalties as young drivers for a first conviction but greater punishment if they reoffend. A second conviction carries a 90-day suspension and licence cancellation follows a third. These escalating penalties apply to convictions for breach of other novice driver conditions.

For example, one condition is that the blood alcohol concentration of the driver accompanying a G1 driver while operating a motor vehicle be less than 50 mg of alcohol in 100 ml blood. The G1 driver must take reasonable steps to ensure the accompanying driver satisfies this requirement.

Care or control

Under the law, not only do young and novice drivers actually driving have to abide by the zero alcohol rule, but also those in care or control (for example, sitting behind the wheel of a parked car). The zero alcohol rule does not apply on private property.

To test the driver’s breath police will likely use the roadside instruments currently used to enforce impaired driving laws. But the law permits use of any “provincially approved screening device.”

Once police ask the driver to surrender his or her licence after the detection of alcohol, the driver can immediately request to take another test using a different device. The officer can take the driver to a police station for the second test or do it at the scene.

Driver can demand retest

The result of the second test governs. If a second device is not readily available, the driver’s blood alcohol level could drop to zero by the time of the second test.

Even if the novice or young driver registers a “Pass” on a screening device indicating the absence of alcohol, police can demand a further breath sample if they still reasonably suspect the driver has alcohol in his or her body. Unless the screening device is unreliable, in which case it should not be used, it is hard to see how police suspicion could reasonably persist following a “Pass” result.

Insurance consequences

A conviction for violating the zero alcohol requirement could be treated by your insurer the same as a conviction for impaired driving. It will likely result in a huge hike in your premiums if not the cancellation of your policy. According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, the Facility Association, a high-risk insurer, will impose a 100 per cent premium surcharge.

Failure to blow or refusal to do so also will also result in a licence suspension. It is a criminal offence to fail or refuse to provide a breath sample where the demand for the sample is pursuant to the Criminal Code. The code authorizes a police officer to demand a breath sample where the officer reasonably suspects the driver has alcohol in his or her body.

Reasonable suspicion required

The new law does not remove the need for reasonable suspicion. However, police can stop you at random in order to check your sobriety.

The screening device is calibrated in Ontario to register a “Warn” (or “Alert”) at blood alcohol levels of between 50 and 99 mgs of alcohol in 100 ml of blood. A “Fail” registers when a level of 100 mgs of alcohol in 100 ml of blood or more is detected.

If a “Warn” registers, the driver is subject to a three-day suspension for a first caution, seven days for a second and 30 days for a third. A driver who registers a fail will be arrested for the criminal offence of Drive Over 80 mgs and subjected to further breath tests to determine the level of alcohol in his or her blood. If readings in excess of 80 mgs in 100 ml of blood are registered, police will criminally charge the driver and issue a 90-day “administrative” driver’s licence suspension.