Driving under the influence, driving while intoxicated, impaired driving, drunk driving. For the average Ontarian, these terms all mean the same thing. In reality, Driving Under the Influence (aka DUI, DWI and “Over 80”) and Impaired Driving are two different offences. A driver can be charged with one or both. And to confuse things a little more, there are also criminal charges for Refusal to Comply with Demand, Drug-Impaired Driving, Driving While Impaired by Drugs and Alcohol, Impaired Driving Causing Bodily Harm and Impaired Driving Causing Death.

Just understanding these different offences as they appear in the Criminal Code is hard enough. Trying to navigate the legal system without the help of an experienced criminal defence lawyer could end up making your situation a lot worse than it already is. Don’t make any statements, decisions or agreements with the police or the Crown until you’ve spoken to a lawyer first.

Keep reading to learn the basics about the different DUI laws in Ontario, when these charges are laid and the consequences of each.

Driving Under the Influence/Over 80

A driver is considered to be driving under the influence if their blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) is 80 mg or more of alcohol per 100 ml of blood. A couple of important notes about this type of DUI law in Ontario:

  • You can still be charged and convicted of DUI/Over 80 even if you’re not driving, as long as you’re deemed to have “care and control” of the vehicle (e.g. being found in the driver’s seat with a BAC over 80).
  • DUI laws can be applied to other vehicles such as:
    • Boats, aircraft and railway equipment
    • Snowmobiles, ATVs, tractors, golf carts, ebikes and motor scooters.
  • A person can be charged and convicted under Ontario DUI laws if a blood or breath sample reveals a BAC of 80 mg or more, regardless of whether they act or appear to be intoxicated.

If you are arrested and charged with DUI, you may feel that you should just confess or plead guilty because there is no way around the blood or breath evidence against you.

Even if you think you have no defence or chance of winning the case, the Crown must be able to prove the charge(s) against you beyond a reasonable doubt. An expert DUI lawyer in Toronto knows how to find mistakes and weaknesses in the evidence that a non-lawyer will have no way of knowing about.

You may also have defences available to you due to rights violations, rights most Ontarians don’t know they have with DUI laws. Which is another reason why it’s important not to say anything or make any decisions about your case without consulting a lawyer.

Credit: Brett Sayles Via: Pexels

Impaired Driving

Even if you have less than the legal limit of alcohol in your system, you can still be charged with Impaired Driving if you’re driving or found to have care and control of a vehicle, vessel or aircraft and an officer suspects your ability to drive is in some way affected by drugs, alcohol or both.

Common behaviours that can lead an officer to believe that you are impaired include:

  • Erratic driving, swerving in and out of lanes
  • Delayed reactions to traffic lights and signs
  • Unsafe accelerations and sudden stops
  • Wide turns
  • Slurred speech
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Alcohol on the breath
  • Swaying on your feet
  • Lack of coordination/motor skills

In 2018, the federal government included parameters for drug-impaired driving as part of the DUI laws. You can be charged with Impaired Driving by Drugs if:

  • The amount of cannabis in your blood is over 2 nanograms of THC per ml of blood. Having over 5 ng of cannabis per ml of blood is treated more seriously.
  • There are 50 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood and 2.5 ng or more of cannabis per ml of blood in your system.
  • There is any detectable amount of cocaine, LSD or other illegal drugs in your blood.

Failure or Refusal to Provide a Breath or Blood Sample

You can also be charged with Failure or Refusal to Comply with Demand for refusing a breathalyzer test, refusing to provide a bodily fluid sample (e.g. saliva) or refusing to perform a sobriety test.

If the police pull you over, you are required to provide them with your driver’s licence, ownership and insurance slip. You are not obligated to answer a police officer’s questions or make any statements, but remember to be respectful if you refuse to answer their questions.

If the officer suspects that you are impaired, they can demand that you provide a breath or bodily fluid sample or perform a sobriety test. You are required to comply, although you may have a valid excuse for not providing a sample if you are injured.

You do not have the right to speak to a lawyer if you are asked to comply with a roadside test. You do, however, have a right to speak to a lawyer if you are arrested and taken to the police station or medical facility for further testing.

Penalties for Violating Ontario DUI Laws

Here are a few of the Criminal Code penalties that come with a conviction of the DUI laws in Ontario:

  • First Offence – Over 80, Impaired by Drugs and/or Alcohol, Refusal to Comply
    • Mandatory minimum: $1,000 fine ($2,000 for refusing to comply)
    • Maximum: 10 years imprisonment
  • Second Offence:
    • Mandatory minimum: 30 days imprisonment
    • Maximum: 10 years imprisonment
  • Third Offence:
    • Mandatory minimum: 120 days imprisonment
    • Maximum: 10 years imprisonment

Visit this Government of Canada website for more information. Additionally, there are penalties administered under Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act that are applied immediately at the roadside before you’ve been convicted of anything if you fail a sobriety test. These include temporary licence suspensions and vehicle impoundment. Find out more here.

How Do You Win a DUI Case?

The most crucial step in getting the best outcome for your case is consulting a lawyer as quickly as possible. Your chances of winning a DUI case in Ontario increase the earlier you get a lawyer involved. The sooner your lawyer starts looking into your case, the more time they have to find and act on any investigative or prosecutorial missteps that could potentially blow apart a seemingly airtight case against you.