Impaired driving, also called driving under the influence or DUI, refers to the operation of a vehicle while the driver’s ability to do so is compromised by alcohol, prescription or non-prescription drugs, alone or in any combination. Types of vehicles where DUI charges could apply include not only road-going vehicles, but also off-road vehicles and ATVs, motorcycles, boats, and snowmobiles. While as a society we are doing a better job of exercising appropriate judgement when it comes to driving under the influence, DUIs remain the second leading criminal cause of death in Canada after homicide and the second most common criminal offence processed in Canadian courts.
Because the consequences can be life-altering, we have created this brief guide to answer questions you might have relating to DUI, including its impact on potential lawsuits and on your accident benefits claim. But first of all, here are some encouraging statistics related to the frequency and severity of DUI incidents:
Since 1986, there has been a 60% decrease in the rate of impaired driving, and a 77% decrease in the rate of impaired driving causing death.
In 2019, there were only 66 cases of impaired driving causing death, the lowest total since data has been collected, starting in 1986.
Although slightly higher than 2018, the 2019 rate of impaired driving incidents causing bodily harm (1.28 incidents per 100,000 people in Canada) was half the rate from 2009, and more than four times lower than in 1986.
The COVID-19 pandemic response appears to have produced a downward trend in the rates of impaired driving and incidents causing bodily harm or death. From March 2020 to February 2021, initial data indicated a 14% decline in impaired driving incidents, with a 33% decrease in incidents causing bodily harm or death.
Even so, in 2019 (the most recent Statistics Canada data):
There were still 85,673 incidents of impaired driving, highest since 2011. Alcohol-related impaired driving incidents increased 15% over 2018; drug-related incidents rose by 43%. (The rise in drug-related impaired driving was at least partly attributable to improved detection methods.)
Alcohol-related incidents accounted for almost 92% of all impaired driving in 2019.
77% of drivers accused of impaired driving were men.
Although only roughly 25% of licensed drivers were between ages 20 and 34, this demographic accounted for 44% of all alcohol and alcohol/drug impaired driving charges.
One of the ongoing challenges for effective policing of impaired driving is the limited resources available. As a result, efforts historically have been concentrated during higher-risk periods. In 2019, 44% of incidents of alcohol-impaired driving occurred on a Saturday or Sunday, peaking between 2 and 3 am. Across all days, 32% occurred after 11:00 pm. However, there is no similar trend for drug-related impaired driving incidents. Although the highest rate occurred between 4 and 5 pm daily, the proportion did not vary much among 3 to 7pm, 7 to 11pm and 11pm to 3am.
DUI Charges & The Law
Section 320.14 of the Criminal Code of Canada contains these impaired driving/DUI offences:
Everyone commits an offence who
(a) operates a conveyance while the person’s ability to operate it is impaired to any degree by alcohol or a drug or by a combination of alcohol and a drug;
(b) subject to subsection (5), has, within two hours after ceasing to operate a conveyance, a blood alcohol concentration that is equal to or exceeds 80 mg of alcohol in 100 mL of blood;(or, 0.08 BAC)
(c) subject to subsection (6), has, within two hours after ceasing to operate a conveyance, a blood drug concentration that is equal to or exceeds the blood drug concentration for the drug that is prescribed by regulation; or
(d) subject to subsection (7), has, within two hours after ceasing to operate a conveyance, a blood alcohol concentration and a blood drug concentration that is equal to or exceeds the blood alcohol concentration and the blood drug concentration for the drug that are prescribed by regulation for instances where alcohol and that drug are combined.
There are also separate offences for impaired causing bodily harm and death.
The prescribed blood drug concentration for cannabis level is 2 nanograms (ng) of THC per ml of blood. Having more than 5ng of THC (or more) per ml of blood is a more serious offence.
The prohibited levels of alcohol and cannabis in combination are 50mg or more of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood and 2.5ng or more of THC per ml of blood.
For drugs such as LSD, psilocybin, psilocin, ketamine, PCP, cocaine, methamphetamine or heroin, any detectable amount within two hours of driving will usually lead to charges.
These criminal blood concentrations are in effect for fully licensed adult drivers. In addition, Ontario has established a “warn” range between 0.05 and 0.08 BAC for these drivers, which results in a three-day licence suspension for a first offence.
The province also mandates separate “impaired” blood concentration levels for other categories of driver:
- Drivers aged 21 or under and novice drivers of any age (with G1, G2, M1, or M2 licenses) must not have any presence of alcohol or drugs including cannabis in their blood when behind the wheel.
- Drivers of vehicles requiring an A-F class licence, vehicles requiring a Commercial Vehicle Operator's Registration (CVOR) and road building machines are prohibited from having any presence of alcohol in their blood when behind the wheel of these types of vehicles. These drivers are also prohibited from having any presence of cannabis in their system as well as other drugs that can be detected by an approved drug screening equipment.
Drivers who are legally authorized to use medical marijuana, are not subject to Ontario’s zero tolerance drug requirements for young, novice and commercial drivers. However, it remains a criminal offence for these users to drive while their ability to do so is impaired, whether through the approved marijuana or otherwise.
Insurance Law – Lawsuits and Accident Benefits
Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or letting an impaired person drive your vehicle, is a breach of the terms of your auto insurance policy, as are convictions for the s. 320.14 criminal offences and refusing to provide a breath sample or other required testing. If you (or the driver you permit to operate your insured vehicle) are in an accident in any of these circumstances, even if you are not at fault, your insurance company will usually refuse to provide coverage in lawsuits against you by other parties involved in the accident.
Impact – Lawsuits
If your insurer takes an “off-coverage” position, they are only obliged to pay up to $200,000 in damages, regardless of what policy’s coverage limits, and regardless of how many parties might sue you for damages. In a serious car accident, damages can easily exceed this amount, often many times over. In this case, you will be personally responsible for the remaining damages. The court can order garnishment of your wages and/or seizure and sale of your assets, including your house or car, to satisfy the claims against you.
Impact – Accident Benefits
Under the “no-fault” regime, your own insurance company provides you with a variety of accident benefits. If your insurer takes an off-coverage position, several of these benefits can be denied – fortunately, your entitlement to medical and rehabilitative benefits is not impacted by a DUI.
Generally, you will receive up to $400 per week in income replacement benefits (IRBs) or $185 per week in non-earner benefits (NEBs) during your recovery, even if you caused the accident. If your injuries are serious enough, you can continue to receive these benefits for life. However, if you are convicted of an impaired driving offence, you are not entitled to these benefits, and are permanently barred from receiving them.
Accident victims who meet the definition of “catastrophically impaired” (CAT) under the accident benefits regulation can receive up to $100 per week for housekeeping and home maintenance assistance. As with IRBs and NEBs, you cannot receive this benefit if you have been convicted of a DUI offence.
Under the no-fault system, your insurance company is also expected to pay for the repairs to your vehicle and related expenses (rentals etc.). Again, the insurer can refuse to pay these expenses on your behalf if you have been convicted of an impaired driving offence.
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If you have been seriously injured in an accident and/or have additional questions concerning impaired driving/DUI, catastrophic impairment, or other matters relating to your lawsuit or accident benefits claim, we are pleased to offer a free, no-obligation consultation. Put Campisi's expert team to work for you. We are Champions with Heart!
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