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Impaired driving law changes

Changes to Alberta’s alcohol- and drug-impaired driving offences and sanctions come into effect April 9, 2018.

Overview

Alberta is updating impaired driving laws to prepare for the legalization of cannabis and to set time limits for licence suspensions.

The following changes come into effect on April 9, 2018:

zero tolerance for cannabis or illegal drugs in the blood stream of GDL drivers, in addition to alcohol
immediate 90-day licence suspension for impaired drivers, followed by participation in a one-year ignition interlock program

Proposed new blood drug concentration limits will come into effect later this year after federal legislation to legalize cannabis and update the Criminal Code receives Royal Assent.

Zero tolerance program

Drivers under the Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) program found to have any amount of cannabis or illegal drugs in their blood are now subject to the same provincial sanctions that apply to alcohol, including:

immediate 30-day licence suspension
immediate 7-day vehicle seizure
must remain in GDL program for 2 years, with one year of suspension-free driving time

GDL drivers who meet the requirements for criminal level impaired driving will be subject to any and all provincial sanctions and criminal penalties that apply.

Licence suspension program

All drivers who are reasonably believed to be criminally impaired, whether through alcohol, drugs or refusing to provide a breath or fluid sample, will be subject to the following sanctions:

immediate 90-day licence suspension
immediate 3-day vehicle seizure (7 day for a second and subsequent occurrence)
mandatory remedial education
one-year participation in a provincial ignition interlock program

Drivers who do not participate in the ignition interlock program will remain suspended for the year.

These sanctions are in addition to criminal charges and any and all penalties imposed by the court. There are no changes to the post-conviction requirements.

Blood concentration limits

Changes to federal impaired driving laws will come into effect after Bill C-46 receives Royal Assent later this year.

Proposed changes include:

new drug-impaired driving offences with specified blood-drug concentration (BDC) limits for several illicit drugs and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main mind-altering ingredient found in cannabis
updated penalties for impaired driving

Detailed information will be provided before these changes come into force.

Drug-impaired driving is already a criminal offence. What will change is the blood-drug concentration limits for cannabis and cannabis/alcohol combination. This is similar to the existing .08 per cent blood alcohol concentration for criminal-level alcohol-impaired driving.

Table 1: Proposed blood-drug concentration limits

Blood concentration level Federal criminal penalty *
2 nanograms (ng) per milliletre (ml)
but less than 5 ng/ml THC Maximum $1,000 fine (summary conviction)

5 ng/ml or more THC **

OR

2.5 ng/ml or more THC combined
with 50 mg/100ml or more alcohol

1st offence: Minimum $1,000 fine

2nd offence: Mandatory 30 days imprisonment

3rd offence: Mandatory 120 days imprisonment

* Penalties are more serious for drivers who have high levels of impairment or who injure or kill others while driving impaired, and those who are repeat offenders.

** This section also includes penalties for exceeding any blood drug concentration as established in federal regulations. THC is just the first. Limits for illegal drugs may follow.

Information on other changes to federal impaired driving laws is available on the Government of Canada website.

Impaired driving stats

Impaired driving is impaired driving, no matter what the substance may be.

Research from the Canadian Centre of Substance Use and Addiction shows that, on average, cannabis use doubles the risk of being involved in a collision.

They found that driving skills are negatively affected after consuming cannabis, including the reduced ability to:

track moving objects
respond to more than one source of information
respond to sudden changes in driving environment

The risk of collision greatly increases if cannabis is consumed with alcohol. Mixing alcohol and drugs such as cannabis significantly increases impairment. In Alberta:

24.1% of all road fatalities involved a driver who tested positive for both alcohol and drugs in 2013
389 people were killed and 5,969 people injured in alcohol-related collisions between 2013 and 2015

More fatalities occur on Canadian roads during the summer months than at any other time of year, including the winter holiday season. Alcohol, fatigue and aggressive driving are often implicated in these tragedies. Whether you’re out for a day trip, travelling to the cottage or on a cross-country holiday, the Canada Safety Council urges all Canadians to put safety first when you set out on your summer travels.

Prepare your vehicle

Before leaving on vacation, have your vehicle checked to make sure everything is working properly. Repair or replace worn parts to avoid the worry and time-consuming costly repairs that could ruin your trip. Check fluid levels and tire pressure. Make sure all lights work, including signal lights.

Keep your passengers safe

Make sure everyone in your vehicle is buckled up properly at all times. Buckling up is the single most effective thing you can do to keep yourself and your passengers safe while on the road.

If you are travelling with young children, make sure to make regular stops. Bring plenty of items to keep them occupied. Special travel games and songs also help.

Drive defensively

Drive at a safe speed. Speeding increases the likelihood and severity of a crash. The faster a vehicle is moving, the less time the driver has to react to a hazard, and for other road users to react to that vehicle. A speeding vehicle requires more time and distance to stop. Leave plenty of distance between yourself and the vehicle ahead. Apply the three second rule so you can see around the car ahead and plan a manoeuvre to avoid potential dangers, add more time if you have a heavier vehicle, and in poor weather conditions.

The Canada Safety Council estimates that 85 per cent of collisions are preventable. But simply being in the right will not save you from injury or death. You must be prepared for the unsafe actions of other motorists or for poor driving conditions.

Obey all signs and signals, including speed limits, traffic lights, stop signs and railway crossings.
If you drive with a wireless phone, avoid unnecessary calls and always make the driving task your top priority.
Absolutely never drink and drive.

Stay alert

Canadians often travel long distances when they go on vacation. This creates a temptation to keep driving for extended periods even when tired. On top of this, routes can be quite monotonous, another factor that can make a driver sleepy. Get a good sleep before leaving on a long trip. Fatigue is a form of impairment; so don’t give in to that temptation to push on. If you started early, stop early. Rest stops are important. A break keeps the driver alert by promoting blood circulation, makes the trip more pleasant for passengers and lets the vehicle cool down.

Carrying a heavy load or towing a trailer

Before you tow a trailer or haul a load, make sure your vehicle is properly equipped for the job. Check your owner’s manual or if in doubt contact your vehicle dealer. Check that your rear view mirrors give a clear view of the road behind. Driving a heavily loaded car or towing a trailer means you need more space to stop or pass. Leave plenty of distance between yourself and the vehicle ahead. Keep your distance – at least three seconds for each six metres (20 ft.) of vehicle length. For conditions that are less than ideal, increase the following distance. If cars cut in front of you, drop back to keep your separation. When traveling slower than the flow of traffic, be courteous. Pull over where possible to let faster vehicles pass.

Share the road

With the warmer weather, comes the prevalence of vulnerable roads users. Motorists must be cautious of cyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians. Always be on the lookout for and yield to vulnerable road users, even if they don’t have the right-of-way. Summer also brings increased construction on our roads and highways. Be prepared to stop or slow down in construction zones.