Impaired driving law changes

Changes to Alberta’s alcohol- and drug-impaired driving offences and sanctions came 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 came 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

Consultation

We engaged with Albertans about cannabis legalization and its implications in the summer of 2017.

The majority of Albertans expressed concern about the potential for increased drug-impaired driving and supported robust impaired-driving laws to ensure the safety of everyone on the road.

News