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How can I get my driver’s licence reinstated through the Back on Track and Ignition Interlock programs in Ontario?

Every day in Ontario, an average of 63 driver’s licence suspensions are put in place due to either criminal charges of impaired driving or provincial alcohol or drug-related driving offences, according to statistics from MADD Canada.1 In many of these cases, the Back on Track program and the Ignition Interlock Program are two mandatory steps towards having a suspended licence reinstated.

What is the Back on Track program?

Drivers convicted of impaired driving in Ontario have to fulfill certain requirements before having their licences reinstated. One of these requirements is the Back on Track program from the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario. The Back on Track program is an education and treatment program for those with suspended driver’s licences aiming to help participants to separate their drug and alcohol use from their driving activities. The program can be required both for those having had their driver’s licence suspended due to a conviction of impaired driving under the Criminal Code as well as for those who have faced two or more administrative suspensions under the Highway Traffic Act within a ten-year period.

There are two main components forming the core of the Back on Track program, and which component you will be required to complete depends on the results of a one-hour preliminary assessment of the extent to which the participant is affected by substance abuse. Depending on the outcome of the preliminary assessment, you could be required to complete either the education program, the treatment program, or both.

How can I get my driver’s licence reinstated through the Back on Track and Ignition Interlock programs in Ontario?Firstly, the education workshop component of the Back on Track program aims to help participants learn about the risks of alcohol and drugs, particularly relating to driving, as well as the consequences of an impaired driving conviction both legally and personally. Finally, the education workshop teaches participants about ways to avoid putting themselves at risk for a conviction of impaired driving. The education component consists of 8 hours of instruction, including presentations, group work, exercises, and discussions.

On the other hand, the treatment workshop component aims to address substance abuse among participants. The workshop helps the participants to learn about why people drink or use drugs and how it affects their lives, as well as to learn about the consequences of their alcohol and drug use and take responsibility for it. The workshop involves helping participants to make personal commitments to reducing their use of alcohol and drugs and to abide by them, including learning other strategies to manage stress, avoiding relapses, and avoiding driving impaired. This component of the program consists of 16 hours of instruction.

Following the completion of the program, participants are required to schedule and complete a follow-up interview in order to monitor the participant’s progress in meeting their goals as well as to reinforce the strategies learned over the course of the program for avoiding alcohol and drug use as well as avoiding driving impaired.

Who has to complete the program?

The Ontario Back on Track program applies to those who have been convicted of impaired driving, 80 and over, or refusal to provide a breath sample to an officer: those convicted of these offences will have to complete the program successfully in order to have their licences reinstated. The program can also be required for the reinstatement of a licence for someone who has had two or more administrative licence suspensions within a ten-year period.

Requirements to complete the program can also be subject to time limitations: for those with multiple administrative suspensions being required to complete the Back on Track program, failure to complete the program will result in a further suspension of the driver’s licence until successful completion.

What can go wrong?

How can I get my driver’s licence reinstated through the Back on Track and Ignition Interlock programs in Ontario?After beginning the program, there are still some issues that can arise. There are a variety of requirements that must be met in order to successfully complete the Back on Track program. If these are not satisfied, the participant in the program will have to register again for the program, pay the fee again, and incur a significant delay in the reinstatement of their licence, regardless of how much of the program was completed before stopping. To successfully complete the Back on Track program, the participant:

  • Must abstain from consuming alcohol, drugs, or cannabis products within 24 hours of any day of participation in the program. This includes dealcoholized beverages and CBD products that may contain THC, but there may be exceptions for prescribed medication that does not impair your ability to participate in the program.
  • May not show signs of odour of alcohol, drugs, or cannabis products within 24 hours of any day of participation in the program.
  • Must attend all sessions scheduled and arrive on time. If they will miss a session, they must either provide 24 hours’ notice to the service provider or provide evidence of serious personal illness or death within the immediate family in order to confirm the reason of absence. In this case, the session and all of its related assignments will have to be completed at a later date.
  • Must participate fully in the program activities and demonstrate comprehension about separating drinking and drug use from driving activity.
  • Must treat program staff and other participants with respect and refrain from all forms of verbal and physical abuse.
  • Must provide accurate information.

Each of these components is required within the same participation cycle—no credit is given for any past unsuccessful participation in the program, and if one requirement is not met, the entire program will have to be repeated. It is therefore key that when you undertake to participate in the Back on Track program, you commit to meeting each of these expectations.

Further, the program has to be completed within a specific amount of time for those with an administrative licence suspension: the education workshop component must be completed within 120 days of the start of the suspension period, while the education workshop component must be completed within 180 days of the start of the suspension period. For the case of an impaired driving conviction, the driver’s licence will simply remain suspended until the completion of the program, even if you participate in the reduced suspension program.

“The demanding nature of the Back on Track program is arguably outweighed by the potential to have one’s driver’s licence reinstated at the earliest available opportunity.”

Tarinpal Dhaliwal, Lawyer at Aitken Robertson

What are the costs of the Back on Track program?

Although it is a necessary step for many in getting their licences back, the Back on Track program can be costly and demanding. The costs of the Back on Track program differ depending on whether you are required to participate because of a conviction of impaired driving or because of multiple administrative licence suspensions. As of the time of writing, (April 2023), the cost of the program for an administrative licence suspension is $344, while the cost of the program in the case of an impaired driving conviction is $894.

The time taken to complete the program can also differ based on the purpose of the licence suspension. In the case of an administrative suspension under the Highway Traffic Act, completion of the Back on Track program after registration with the local provider can take up to 90 days, while this period can be extended to up to 11 months in the case of a conviction of impaired driving.

The Back on Track program only applies for Ontario. For drivers residing outside of Ontario, the Ministry may be able to recognize some programs as equivalent to the Back on Track program to fulfill this requirement for the reinstatement of a licence. Even within Ontario, the content and delivery of the program may differ by location.

What comes next?

The Back on Track remedial measures program is only one part of the process of getting your licence back. In general, the process to get your licence back has three parts. First, you have to complete the required parts of the Back on Track program. You then must ensure to pay any outstanding fees, fines, or penalties that may be applicable, and finally wait for any licence suspension period to end. After your licence suspension period has ended, you may be required to participate in the Ignition Interlock program

The relevant licence suspension period may be reduced in some cases by participating in the Ignition Interlock Conduct Review Program, under which certain offenders may be eligible to serve a shorter licence suspension period. This is not to be confused with the Ignition Interlock program, which reflects a general requirement to use an Ignition Interlock device for a certain period of time after an impaired driving offence. Under the Ignition Interlock Conduct Review program, the requirement to complete the Back on Track program before the reinstatement of a driver’s licence is modified: you may only have to complete the initial assessment component of the Back on Track program before having your licence conditionally reinstated under the Interlock Conduct Review Program. In this case, you will still have to complete the rest of the Back on Track program. Note that the Ignition Interlock Conduct Review program is not available for those whose licence suspensions relate to drug use or a combination of drugs and alcohol.

If you are required to participate in the Back on Track program, the most important thing to remember is that the requirements are strict. In order to pass the program and get your licence back, you have to meet each of the program requirements, otherwise, you will have to retake the entire course. Registration for the program can be done through the Back on Track website: for Criminal Code charges, the Ministry recommends doing so seven days after receiving a conviction. Below is a (non-exhaustive) list of Back on Track program providers in some areas in Ontario:

A comprehensive list of providers will be sent to you after registering for the program.

Ignition Interlock Program

Another mandatory step in the process of getting your licence back after an impaired driving conviction will be the Ignition Interlock Program. This program will also be required for drivers who have had three or more administrative licence suspensions within a ten-year period. Under this program, after completing the mandatory licence suspension period, an offender is able to have their licence conditionally reinstated: the condition is that they must install an ignition interlock device in their vehicle. For some, the Ignition Interlock program and the process of licence reinstatement may be shortened by participation in the Ignition Interlock Conduct Review program.

An ignition interlock device is installed near the steering wheel of your vehicle and is made to detect blood alcohol concentration in a subject’s breath. With such a device installed, the driver will need to blow into the device in order for the vehicle to start, as well as blow into the device at random times while driving. If the device detects a blood alcohol level of over 0.02, the vehicle will not start.

There are only two government-approved interlock service providers in Ontario: Smart Start Canada and ALCOLOCK Canada. The cost of the device itself may vary by provider, but, at the time of writing, averages at approximately $100 per month for the rental fees, with steep additional fees for special vehicles, replacement of parts, missed appointments, resets after violations, and unscheduled service.

What can go wrong?

How can I get my driver’s licence reinstated through the Back on Track and Ignition Interlock programs in Ontario?This program also has strict requirements. Firstly, the device must be installed in the vehicle for a minimum of one year for first-time offenders, three years for second-time offenders, six years for third-time offenders, and six months for administrative suspensions. For this period of time, it is not allowed to tamper with the device, drive without the device, or miss an appointment with your Ignition Interlock program service provider. This includes a prohibition on driving another person’s vehicle who does not have the device: this can lead to further charges for the person who allows this.

For the offender, tampering with the device, driving without it, or allowing others to blow into the device can lead to fines, vehicle impoundments, and additional charges. The fines may range between $200 and $20,000 for commercial vehicles, and between $200 and $1,000 for other vehicles. Vehicle impoundments will last 7 days for an administrative suspension under the Highway Traffic Act, 45 days for a first offence under the Criminal Code, 90 days for a second offence, and 180 days for a third or any subsequent offence. Such violations may also lead to extensions of the Ignition Interlock period for a further 6 or 18 months of the expiry date.

In the case of a refusal to provide a breath sample or the provision of a sample with a blood alcohol level that exceeds the prescribed limit, the ignition interlock device will issue a warning and record the reading or lack thereof, and it may also activate an alarm system in the vehicle such as flashing lights or the car horn until the ignition of the vehicle is turned off. The device will not turn off the vehicle on its own.

The program also requires the driver to attend monthly or bi-monthly appointments with a service provider for the calibration of the interlock device.

Another potential issue is that because the device detects alcohol, it is possible to fail the system tests without having a blood alcohol concentration over the prescribed limit: the device may detect other substances containing alcohol such as perfume or cologne, mouthwash, or windshield washer fluid and register a fail. If this is the case, you may complete an occurrence report explaining the circumstances. You must take a follow-up test on the device: if you believe a failed result to be due to outside circumstances, you may air out your vehicle and rinse your mouth with water before the follow-up test.

Conclusion

If you are facing criminal impaired driving charges or multiple administrative licence suspensions, it is important to note that the process to getting your licence back can be costly and time-consuming. You will have to adhere to the strict requirements of both the Back on Track program and the Ignition Interlock program, both of which can be expensive. You should ensure to adhere to these requirements at your first participation in the programs, otherwise you risk having to redo the program, incurring additional fees and penalties, or simply not being eligible for a conditional licence. If you do not participate in the Ignition Interlock program, whether by choice or due to failure to meet its requirements, you will have to serve the entire Ignition Interlock period as a full suspension of your licence. Similarly, the Back on Track program is a mandatory step towards getting your licence back, meaning that you will not be able to get your licence back until completing it. While these are strict and demanding requirements, when done in accordance with the procedures established by the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario, you may also be able to get your licence back at the earliest possible opportunity.

 

Footnotes

  1. MADD Canada, “Provincial Short-Term Alcohol and Drug-Related Suspensions & Federal Impaired Driving Charges” (September 2021), online (pdf).

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