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Exceeding the legal blood alcohol limit

Impaired driving is a problem all over Canada.

It’s important to know what the legal alcohol limit is and what consequences you can face if you are caught with a higher than legal blood alcohol level (BAC).

There are strict limits of how much alcohol you are allowed to have in your system when you are driving. The limitation for driving isn’t just restricted to drivers of cars, but also all other vehicles, such as boats, snowmobiles, aircraft and railway equipment and more.

There is a three-tier system in place that determines the allowable alcohol limit of a driver:

  • 0.00 BAC level for young and novice drivers;
  • 0.05 BAC (a 0.04 BAC in Saskatchewan), where administrative sanctions apply, such as licence suspensions; and
  • 0.08 BAC, above which level Criminal Code sanctions apply.

How these limits are measured are in milligrams of alcohol in one hundred millilitres of blood. For example, 0.05 BAC is equal to 50 milligrams of alcohol in one hundred milliliters of blood.

What happens if I exceed the administrative sanctions level?

If you submitted to a breathalyzer test and the results show up in the 0.05 to 0.08 BAC range, then you will be considered in the “warning” range. This means the person may face administrative penalties. For example, roadside prohibition or roadside suspensions are not uncommon.

What happens if I exceed the legal limit of 0.08?

If the Breathalyzer shows that your blood-alcohol level is at 0.08 or above, then you will likely face criminal charges.

Before you are charged, the police will require you to provide a further breath sample at the police station. If that sample confirms that your blood-alcohol level is above 0.08, then you will be criminally charged.

The section that you will be charged under is likely s. 253 of the Criminal Code of Canada. The section is entitled “operation while impaired” and it sets out that it is a criminal offence to operate a vehicle – any vehicle – and also aircraft or railway equipment and having care or control of a vehicle while the individual is under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

It’s important to know that the vehicle, aircraft or railway equipment can be unmoving at the time the police approach you. If you have “care and control of the vehicle”, then you may be charged.

Can I refuse to take a Breathalyzer test?

Not really. If you refuse to take a Breathalyzer test then you can be charged under the Criminal Code and the penalties are the same as if you were charged with drunk driving.

What are the penalties for being charged with exceeding the alcohol limit?

If you have been charged with a criminal offence under s. 253, then your possible punishment will depend on whether you have been charged under summary conviction or an indictable offence.

If you are charged under s. 253 of the Criminal Code under summary charges, then you could face penalties from a monetary fine up to 18 months in imprisonment. If charged with an indictable offence, you could face a monetary fine up to five years imprisonment.

You can also be charged under other sections of the Criminal Code if your state of impairment caused bodily injury or death, which can push the punishments for exceeding the alcohol limit even higher.

Under provincial or territorial laws, you could also be facing a suspension of your license for a certain amount of time. People are often charged under both the Criminal Code and provincial or territorial statute.

If you have been detained, arrested or charged with a drunk driving or impaired driving offence, contact a lawyer as soon as possible.

Read more:

Ending Alcohol-Impaired Driving: A Common Approach

Alcohol and Drug Impaired Driving