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Ontario Impaired Driving Penalties and Ontario’s New “Getting Your Licence Back Earlier” Law

Losing your licence because of an impaired driving conviction can have a massively detrimental effect on your life, especially if you rely on driving to get to work or if you live in a rural area.

The Ontario Highway Traffic Act (HTA) creates punishments that are in addition to the Criminal Code fines and periods of imprisonment for drunk driving offences, including licence suspensions between 1 year for a first offence to a lifetime for a third offence. In addition to being subject to the suspensions, these drivers have to complete a remedial measures assessment and education or treatment program (for approximately 10 months), and also have to install an Ignition Interlock Device on their vehicles for between 1 year for a first offence to lifetime for a third offence (if the suspension period is reduced to 10 years). The Ignition Interlock Device is a leased breath alcohol monitoring machine wired into your vehicle’s ignition.

However, the HTA is now also allowing for early reinstatement of the suspended licence with the installation of the Ignition Interlock Device – if you meet certain conditions.
This program is available for persons convicted of a first impaired or over 80 driving or refuse breath sample offence that did not cause bodily harm or death and did not involve drug impairment.
You must have a car and valid insurance to be eligible. Additionally, you must not be under another suspension (such as for dangerous driving or a novice driver disqualification) and you must have your fines fully paid.
There are 2 “streams”:

Stream A

  • 3 months minimum driver’s licence suspension
  • Followed by a minimum Ignition Interlock Installation Period of 9 months

*Stream ‘A’ is only available if you plead guilty and are sentenced within 89 days of being charged*

Stream B

  • 6 months minimum driver’s licence suspension
  • Followed by a minimum Ignition Interlock Installation Period of 12 months

Conclusion:

Two of the requirements for both streams are to successfully complete the assessment component of the required remedial measures program and to establish proof of a lease agreement for an approved Ignition Interlock Device. Note that before the new law, the overall impact was 12 months of no driving plus 12 months of Interlock. Now it could be as low as 3 months of no driving plus 9 months of Interlock.

The difference between the two streams is that Stream A applies to those who plead guilty and are sentenced within 89 days of being charged. Stream B applies to those who plead guilty and are sentenced later or who lose at trial. Stream A only applies to those who have not been convicted of an Impaired Operation/Exceed 80mgs or Fail to Provide Breath Sample offence within the last ten (10) years.

There is much that is good about this new law, however a big concern is that innocent people, for example, those in rural areas, who depend on driving to get to work, buy groceries etc., will plead guilty, just to get their licences back sooner, or because 89 days often is not enough time to be able to assess whether a defence is available. Due to this tight time frame, it becomes critically important to retain a lawyer quickly and then make a decision when informed of all your options.

Currently, the new Ontario impaired driving penalties for a first offence are:

  • A fine increased to $1000.00 from $600.00;
  • 30 days in jail instead of 14 days on a second offence;
  • 120 days in jail instead of 90 days on a third offence.

There are a number of other consequences too:

  • The installation of the Ignition Interlock Device for between 9 months and a lifetime, depending on the number of prior convictions and the date of each sentencting;
  • Being required to attend the Ministry of Transportation “Back on Track” assessment or the assessment and the Educational or Treatment Programs;
  • Massive insurance increases;
  • A criminal record which may limit your employment prospects;
  • Your ability to travel internationally could be affected;
  • Your automobile could be seized and sold by the police;
  • Possible immigration-citizenship consequences.

Other Ontario Impaired Driving Penalties

Further fines, victim fine surcharges, probation, weapons prohibitions, DNA orders, increased insurance and many other penalties are possible in addition to the basic fines and driver’s licence suspensions. The sooner we act the more we control the damage.

The consequences of driving impaired in Ontario are very serious. As well, Ontario’s drinking and driving laws are becoming progressively stricter. For example, in Ontario, a fully licenced driver will receive an immediate roadside licence suspension of three, seven or 30 days if he or she refuses to submit to a breath test or if during the breath test a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of 0.05 or more is recorded.

Drivers under the age of 21 years and novice drivers, who are not fully licenced, are allowed no alcohol what-so-ever in their systems. If caught with any alcohol in their blood, these drivers would get an immediate 24-hour roadside licence suspension and then if convicted, the fully licenced driver who is 21 or under could receive a fine of up to $500 and a 30 day licence suspension. In addition to fines and potential jail time, a novice driver with an impaired driving conviction would also have his or her licence suspended and be required to return to the start of the Graduated Licence System.

The Province of Ontario has instituted automatic roadside licence suspensions that immediately remove suspected impaired drivers from the roads. Immediate roadside suspensions are also intended to act as a deterrent, in the hope that they will discourage drivers who have been caught drinking and driving from ever re-offending again. If a driver with a prior licence suspension should get caught again with a BAC in the ‘warn range’, i.e., a BAC of 0.05 to 0.08, the police can immediately suspended the impaired driver’s licence for seven days. For a third or subsequent occurrence of being caught driving with a BAC in the warn range, the offending driver’s licence will be immediately suspended for 30 days.

The consequences of being caught driving with a ‘Warn Range’ 0.05 to 0.08 BAC include:

First offence:

  • 3 day licence suspension
  • Administrative Monetary Penalty of $150

Second offence: (within a 5 year period)

  • 7 day licence suspension
  • Administrative Monetary Penalty of $150
  • Mandatory participation in Alcohol Education Program

Third offence: (within a 5 year period)

  • 30 day licence suspension
  • Administrative Monetary Penalty of $150
  • Mandatory participation in Alcohol Education Program
  • 6 month Ignition Interlock licence condition

Fourth and subsequent offences: (within a 5 year period)

  • 30 day licence suspension
  • Administrative Monetary Penalty of $150
  • Mandatory participation in Alcohol Education Program
  • 6 month Ignition Interlock licence condition
  • Mandatory medical evaluation

Ignition Interlock Program

If you are a first-time offender charged with impaired driving or over 80, and there are no drugs involved or no aggravating circumstances, you may be eligible to get a licence suspension of less than one year allowing you to drive with the Ignition Interlock device instead. You MUST plead guilty and be sentenced within 89 days of being charged and the appropriate arrangements must be made ahead of time to qualify for this new program. Ignition Interlock device licence conditions also apply if you are caught driving with a ‘Warn Range’ 0.05 to 0.08 BAC three or more times.

The Ministry of Transportation of Ontario does not recognize pardons. Therefore, despite having received a pardon for a previous drinking and driving offence, you will receive the same driving suspension as if you had not received a pardon. This can result in devastating consequences.

Also, if you have a conviction from certain States in the United States, such as Michigan or New York, in certain circumstances it may count as a “prior” in Canada.

An experienced lawyer can assist you in navigating through these rough waters. Often, simply timing when the accused finishes his/her file, can have a significant beneficial impact in reducing the length of driving suspensions.

At Aitken Robertson, our team approach gives you an opportunity to meet with our various lawyers to fully discuss the facts of your case. While no lawyer can promise a particular result, we will often be able to give you an initial, honest impression of your case and explain to you the approach that we will take in defending you. If you hire Aitken Robertson we will work with a variety of experts to evaluate the merits of your case.

Aitken Robertson is experienced in assessing the complicated interplay between the Criminal Code and the Highway Traffic Act to avoid the unexpected and unwanted results that await the misinformed.

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