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Despite continued education to the public of the dangers of drinking and driving, this practice is still common in Canada. In fact, about 50,000 Canadians are arrested for driving under the influence every year. And that number does not account for the countless incidents of drivers operating a motor vehicle on Canadian roads while under the influence of alcohol who are not caught by law enforcement.

It’s estimated that up to 1,500 people are killed every year in Canada from an incident involving driving under the influence. And another 63,000 people are estimated to be injured annually in alcohol impairment-related accidents. 

Not only is drinking and driving dangerous, but it can also significantly impact your eligibility to continue driving on Canadian roads as well as the rates you pay for auto insurance. Rates for these policies can skyrocket after a DUI conviction, and some insurers may cancel your policy altogether.

What Is Considered Drunk Driving In Canada?

Law enforcement measures a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to determine whether or not a person is over the legal limit to drive. In Canada, the maximum legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) for licenced drivers is 0.08, which means 80 mL of alcohol per 100 mL of blood. If you are caught driving with a BAC of 0.08 or higher, you would be committing a criminal offense.

The rules are different for young drivers, who are not allowed to have any alcohol in their system when driving. Graduated driver licencing (GDL) programs are applicable all across Canada and involve multiple stages before a full licence is granted. Each stage has its own restrictions, which are designed to help minimize risk exposure. Eventually, these restrictions will all be lifted once the individual graduates to a full licence. 

All jurisdictions in Canada require that young drivers have a zero BAC under the GDL program when driving within the first 2 years before graduating to a full licence, no matter what the legal drinking age is in the jurisdiction. 

Provinces including Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, and New Brunswick have additional measures that require that all drivers under the age of 21 have a zero BAC when driving. And drivers in Nova Scotia and Manitoba are required to have a zero BAC level for 5 years following their receipt of a driver’s licence, no matter how old they are.

The amount of alcohol that one person can consume without being over the legal limit may differ greatly from another individual. Many factors come into play that impact a person’s blood alcohol level, including:

  • Body weight
  • Amount of food in the stomach
  • Gender
  • Medications used
  • How quickly the alcohol was consumed

So, the same glass of wine may affect a male with a high percentage of body fat who just finished a big meal very differently than a smaller woman who hasn’t eaten in hours.

What About Driving While Under The Influence of Cannabis?

Driving while under the influence of cannabis is a criminal offense, as it can cause inebriation similar to alcohol. Bill C-46 was passed in June 2018 that added federal laws to the Criminal Code of Canada in terms of impaired driving. Under this bill, drivers cannot lawfully drive a vehicle if they have at least 2 nanograms (ng) of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — which is the active compound in cannabis that gets users high — per mL of blood.

The penalties vary based on the amount of THC found in a person’s system:

  • Driving with anywhere from 2 to 5 ng of THC per mL of blood within two hours of driving is a criminal offense and is punishable with a fine of up to $1,000.
  • Driving with more than 5 ng of THC per mL of blood within two hours of driving could be an indictable offence with punishment ranging from a $1,000 fine to up to 10 years in prison for repeatable offences.
  • Drivers who are caught with both alcohol and THC in their blood would be guilty of a hybrid offence and would also face a punishment of anywhere from a $1,000 fine to up to 10 years in prison for repeatable offences. When found together, the prohibited level of alcohol and cannabis is at least 50 mg of alcohol per 100 mL blood and at least 2.5 ng of THC per mL of blood.

Find out how your cannabis use might affect your life insurance premiums.

Penalties For Drunk Driving

The penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol depend on the BAC and the number of offences committed. A person will be charged with alcohol-impaired driving if they are caught with a BAC of 0.08 or higher within 2 hours of driving. 

  • First offence: Mandatory minimum $1000 fine and/or up to 10 years in jail.
  • Second offence: Minimum 30 days up to 10 years in jail. 
  • Third offence: Minimum 120 days up to 10 years in jail. 

The penalties can be broken down further depending on the level of alcohol in the blood and whether or not the impaired driving caused injury or death:

  • First offence and a BAC of 80 to 119 mg: Minimum $1,000 fine
  • First offence and a BAC of 120 to 159 mg: Minimum $1,500 fine
  • First offence and a BAC of 160 mg or higher: Minimum $2,000 fine
  • Impaired driving causing death: Indictment, maximum life imprisonment

How Will Drunk Driving Affect My Car Insurance? 

Auto insurance rates are determined by your perceived risk level to your auto insurance company. The higher the risk, the higher your premiums will be. 

Several factors influence your risk level, including your record of driving under the influence of alcohol or cannabis. If you’ve been caught drinking and driving in the past, you’ll likely face much higher rates for an auto insurance policy because you’ll now be considered high-risk. 

The amount that your rate will increase will depend on the insurance company, as each insurer has its own criteria to determine the rate of increase in premiums after a DUI. Other factors will also be considered, including where you live and whether or not you’ve had other claims in the past.

In more severe circumstances, you may lose your policy altogether. Some insurance providers may decline to cover drivers who have been convicted of a DUI offence.

If you have been previously penalized for drinking and driving, you may have to find an auto insurance company that specializes in covering high-risk drivers. 

How Long Will A DUI Affect My Insurance?

Your conviction will impact your auto insurance for 6 years. 

If you were convicted of impaired driving in Canada, your offence will remain on your driving record for 3 years. If your licence was suspended as a result of a DUI, then it will stay on your record for 6 years.

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Alcohol Driving Offences FAQs

Can I reduce my car insurance after a DUI?

Auto insurance can be reduced after 6 years of a conviction, as long as you maintain a clean record.

Do you have to tell your car insurance company about a DUI?

You will face consequences if you are not honest with your insurance provider. Your best bet is to be upfront about your conviction in order to avoid any repercussions that may come as a result of withholding this important information, including being denied coverage, facing a fine, or possibly jail time.

Where can I find affordable car insurance after a DUI?

You’ll need to do some comparison shopping to find affordable rates for an auto insurance policy following a driving conviction. To make this easier, consider using an insurance broker to help you do the legwork of searching for the lowest rate plan available to you. While you’re doing that, consider buying a safe car, taking other drivers off the policy, and driving as few kilometres as possible to help reduce your rate.

Final Thoughts

Drinking and driving is never a good idea. Not only will it put you at risk for harming yourself and others, but it can also have dire consequences on your driver’s licence and auto insurance. 

Priyanka Correia avatar on Loans Canada
Priyanka Correia

Priyanka Correia is a Marketing Coordinator and personal finance expert at Loans Canada. Priyanka completed her Bachelor's degree in Marketing at Concordia University and has published work that has been mentioned in various news media. She is passionate about money management and educating Canadian consumers about how to take control of their financial lives.

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