A new law in Ontario will mean administrative licence suspensions for those charged with driving while impaired by drugs.

Administrative License Suspensions for Drivers Impaired by Alcohol

Prior to the introduction of this new law, administrative suspensions only followed when an individual was charged with refusing to provide samples or providing a breath sample in excess of the legal limit of alcohol.  This continues to apply for alcohol offences. For example, if you are arrested, taken to a station and blow over the limit on the so-called “breathalyzer machine”, you lose your licence for a minimum of 90 days.  Alternatively, if you refuse to blow into the breathalyzer machine, you also lose your licence for that 90-day period, leading to the often heard “not blowing at all is the same as blowing over”.  The rationale for this is likely that the machine is a reliable indicator of your ability to drive and if the machine says you’re over the limit that justifies the suspension.

However, if you are only arrested and charged with impaired driving by alcohol, you do not lose your licence.  This can happen, for example, if an officer thought you were impaired based on their observations but you ended up blowing under the legal limit at the station.  Another possible scenario could be that you are arrested for impaired driving but for some medical reason you could not provide a sample.   In those circumstances, if an officer thought you couldn’t blow for a valid reason, they may not lay the charge of refusal.  In both these circumstances, although an officer had reasonable grounds to believe you were impaired by alcohol and drove your car, you would not lose your licence for the administrative 90-day period.

People are often surprised at this difference in treatment.  It’s important because the administrative suspension is in addition to any driving prohibition that a court orders.  It is also independent of what actually happens to the charge. For example, if your charge is withdrawn in court during the 90-day suspension period, your licence remains suspended.

Understanding the New Rules for Driving While Impaired by Drugs

The new suspensions for impaired driving by drugs are important for people to understand, especially given the lack of any objective assessment confirming you are, in fact, contravening the law. Impaired by drug charges depend on the subjective assessment of a police officer that administers sobriety tests either roadside, at the police station, or both.  There is no test result that comes back saying you are impaired by drugs.   You receive no printout confirming you have a confirmed amount of drug in your system.    There could be a reason independent of impairment by drug that causes a person to present in a certain way to a police officer. Unfortunately, situations like that could lead to people not impaired by drugs having their licence suspended, either at the roadside or at a police station.  It will be interesting to see how these suspensions are handled after the law takes effect and have been in place for some time.

The team at Hicks Adams has extensive experience in these cases and is available for a free consultation. Call us at 416-975-1700.

Theo Sarantis, Associate, Hicks Adams