Impaired driving in Canada, 2011

Impaired driving has been a recognized criminal act in Canada since 1921. Despite a sizeable drop in the impaired driving rate since the mid-1980s, impaired driving is the leading cause of criminal death in Canada. Impaired driving continues to be an important issue for governments throughout Canada, as well as for police services, the justice system, community organizations and the general public.

In Canada, the Criminal Code prohibits driving while one’s ability to operate a vehicle is impaired by alcohol or drugs. It is also an offence to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) in excess of 80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood. In recent decades, the federal government has implemented numerous measures to combat impaired driving. For example, a number of amendments have been made to the Criminal Code to increase the minimum and maximum penalties for impaired driving, with the most recent amendment introduced in July 2008.

In addition to the measures taken by the federal government, the provinces and territories have instituted administrative penalties or controls that allow immediate action to be taken against suspected impaired drivers. All jurisdictions except Quebec have also implemented temporary preventive suspensions for drivers with a BAC that is considered elevated, but still below the criminal limit of .08 set out in the Criminal Code. As well, all provinces have adopted zero BAC limits for novice drivers as part of graduated driver-licensing schemes (Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights 2009), while half have adopted similar limits for all young drivers, whether or not they are novice.

These provincial and territorial administrative sanctions enable police to remove drivers who have been drinking from the road, yet avoid the longer time required for the police to process a Criminal Code impaired driving charge (Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights 2009).

This Juristat article analyzes trends in police-reported impaired driving in Canada, as defined by the Criminal Code, the penalties imposed by the courts, as well as characteristics of those admitted to correctional services for an impaired driving conviction.

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