Most of us grew up seeing ads that increased awareness about drunk driving. You might remember this classic impaired driving MADD spot from the late 1980s.
It’s unfortunate that this message is still relevant today. Although impaired driving rates continue to drop, there are still over 200 suspensions or charges per day in Canada for impaired driving. And in the 2020s, impaired driving can mean many different things.
The current legal limit for blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) in your system is 80 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood; you may see this written as 0.08%. This can mean that as little as one drink over a two-hour period for a 110-pound woman, or three drinks over a two-hour period for a 180-pound man, can put you in the danger zone.
Every person is different, though, and guidelines for alcohol consumption are just that – guidelines. Some people have a stronger reaction to alcohol and keep it in their system longer. It’s very possible to be impaired without feeling obvious signs of being drunk. Even a single drink can slow your reaction time behind the wheel and impair your judgement.
When it comes to alcohol, the only truly safe level is none at all.
Now that cannabis is legal in Canada, impaired driving incidents involving the drug are becoming more common. Legally speaking, you can be fined for a THC level in your blood of between 2 nanograms and 5 nanograms per millilitre of blood. More serious penalties can be handed out if a driver has above 5 nanograms per millilitre of blood. (THC is the active component of non-medical marijuana that causes the “high.”)
THC levels in cannabis vary wildly. The chemical can be detected in your system for days after ingestion, making it hard to judge your current level of intoxication. As well, inhaled cannabis will peak in your system after 1 to 4 hours, but edibles reach their impairment peak after 4 to 6 hours, so the method of ingestion is important.
Cannabis in your system can affect your motor skills and reaction time. It’s always safest to have no cannabis in your system at all when getting behind the wheel.
Most illegal drugs have a zero-tolerance level for drivers who are actively on the road. If substances like LSD, psilocin (“magic mushrooms”), PCP, cocaine, methamphetamine or heroin are detected in your system at any level within two hours of driving, you will face fines, license suspensions, or even jail time.
Combinations of substances
Alcohol mixed with drugs, especially cannabis, is a common combination. Together they rapidly increase intoxication and create a dangerous situation for drivers.
When mixing alcohol with cannabis, the legal limits drop. Penalties kick in at 50 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood and 2.5 ng of THC per millilitre of blood. It’s always best to keep the party at home and not drive at all until you are sure you are well under legal limits and able to react quickly while driving a vehicle.
If you are found to have over the legal limit of alcohol, cannabis, illegal drugs, or any combination in your system, you will be subjected to a $1000 fine for your first offence. That fine jumps to $2000 if a breath or blood sample is requested and refused.
You can also face other immediate consequences, including:
- Suspension of your license for 3 to 90 days
- Impoundment of your vehicle
- Requirement to complete an education program about substance abuse
Don’t forget that drivers under 21 or those with learner-level licenses, face stiffer penalties and may have their license completely revoked.
Repeat offenders can face jail time in addition to fines and suspensions. And there are automatic prison sentences given to those who cause harm to another person while driving under the influence.
But aside from the legal consequences, the very real danger of hurting yourself or others while driving impaired makes it an easy call to not get behind the wheel when you have any alcohol or drugs in your system at all. Keep our roads safe and stay off the road when impaired.
Earn your RoadSMARTS
Learn more about road safety by taking the #RoadSMARTS pledge. By taking the Road SMARTS Pledge, you Support Making All Road Travel Safe, which can help improve road safety for everyone. When road behaviours change, accidents are reduced. For more information and to take the pledge for free, visit https://www.ottawasafetycouncil.ca/road-smarts.