Provincial Administrative Sanctions for Impaired Driving - Questions and Answers
1. Why are impaired driving laws changing?
In April 2017, the Government of Canada introduced legislation that will legalize the use and possession of non-medical cannabis in Canada (Bill C-45), and make changes to federal impaired driving laws (Bill C-46), in the Criminal Code (Canada).
These federal changes include three new impaired driving offences specific to cannabis, cannabis/alcohol combination and other drugs. Alberta’s Traffic Safety Act is being updated to reflect changes being made to federal impaired driving laws.
In addition, in May 2017, the Court of Appeal of Alberta ruled that Section 88.1 of Alberta’s Traffic Safety Act was unconstitutional. This section imposes an indefinite licence suspension for driving with a Blood Alcohol Concentration over .08 per cent—a federal criminal offence—pending the outcome of criminal court proceedings. This indefinite licence suspension must be changed to a fixed-term suspension.
2. What is changing with federal impaired driving laws through Bill C-46?
Extensive information on the proposed federal impaired driving legislation can be found on the Government of Canada website. Briefly, Bill C-46 proposes:
- Mandatory roadside screening for alcohol—reasonable suspicion of impairment will no longer be required.
- Increased mandatory minimum penalties for impaired driving.
- Removal of the “bolus drinking defence”—a reckless behaviour where a driver states that a large amount of alcohol was consumed just before driving and therefore was not fully absorbed when driving occurred, thus the driver’s blood alcohol concentration was not yet over the legal limit at the time of driving
- Limitation of the “intervening drinking defence”—a behaviour where a driver involved in an impaired driving incident would consume a large amount of alcohol immediately after driving but before police could administer a breath test.
- Authorizing police to use oral fluid drug screeners to detect the presence of drugs, at such time as a device is approved by Canada’s Attorney General.
- New drug-impaired driving offences, with specified Blood Drug Concentration limits to be set out in federal regulations:
Federal Criminal Penalty*
2 ng/ml but less that 5ng/ml
Maximum $1,000 fine (Summary conviction)
5 ng/ml or more THC (in blood)
(This section also includes exceeding any blood drug concentration as established in federal regulations. THC is just the first**)
Minimum $1,000 fine
Mandatory 30 days imprisonment
3rd and Subsequent Offence(s)
Mandatory 120 days imprisonment
2.5 ng/ml or more THC combined with 50 mg/100ml or more Alcohol (in blood)
Minimum $1,000 fine
Mandatory 30 days imprisonment
3rd and Subsequent Offence(s)
Mandatory 120 days imprisonment
*Note: penalties are more serious for drivers who have high levels of impairment, injure or kill others while driving impaired, and those who are repeat offenders.
**The following other limits are currently proposed by the federal government for the Blood Drug Concentration offence:
- Any detectable level in blood for: Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD); Psilocybin; Psilocin; Phencyclidine (PCP); 6–Monoacetylmorphine; Ketamine; Cocaine; and Methamphetamine.
- 5 mg/L of blood for Gammahydroxybutyrate (GHB).
Detailed Questions and Answers about Bill C-46 are on the Government of Canada’s website.
3. How are Alberta’s impaired driving laws changing?
To reflect the changes to federal impaired driving laws; to address the Court of Appeal of Alberta decision about Section 88.1 of the Traffic Safety Act; and to ensure that a robust system of administrative sanctions remains in place to deter all forms of impaired driving in advance of cannabis legalization, the following changes are being proposed to Alberta’s impaired driving laws:
Alberta Administrative Licence Suspension Program
The immediate Driver’s Licence suspension for drivers with a Blood Alcohol Concentration over .08, which remains in place until the criminal charge is resolved, will be changed to a two-stage, fixed-term suspension of:
- 90 days where the suspended driver is unable to drive under any circumstances, AND
- a further one year driving suspension where the suspended driver may be eligible to drive on the condition that they participate in Alberta’s Ignition Interlock Program. If they choose not to participate in the Ignition Interlock Program, they will remain suspended during this one-year term with no ability to drive.
The Alberta Administrative Licence Suspension Program will be expanded to include drivers with a blood drug concentration or blood alcohol/drug concentration over the proposed new federal limits when they come into force in Ottawa.
References to the Criminal Code (Canada) in Alberta’s Traffic Safety Act:
References in the Traffic Safety Act will be adjusted to reflect the re-numbering and reorganization of all transportation-related offences in the Criminal Code (Canada) under Bill C-46.
Alberta Zero Tolerance Program (AZAT):
The Alberta Zero Tolerance Program for Graduated Driver Licence (GDL) drivers—which to date included zero tolerance for alcohol in the bloodstream—will be extended to include cannabis, cannabis/alcohol combination, and illegal drugs.
Alberta Transportation Safety Board (ATSB):
Some of the processes and procedures of the Alberta Transportation Safety Board are being updated:
- Instead of unlimited reconsiderations on appeals, even when no new information or evidence has come to light, Alberta Transportation Safety Board will now only be required to reconsider a decision once, and only if the circumstances respecting the matter have substantially changed. (The driver always has the option of appealing the Alberta Transportation Safety Board’s decision to the Courts).
- Currently, the Alberta Transportation Safety Board has the authority to hear appeals on court-imposed driver’s licence suspensions or disqualifications. This authority will be removed, to ensure that the Alberta Transportation Safety Board’s powers align with other administrative tribunals, and that the Court has the final authority.
- Appeal fees must be paid at a Registry Office and the proof of payment provided by the Registry submitted to the ATSB on the appeal date. The ATSB does not accept payment for appeals.
4. What do these changes mean for new drivers?
Alberta’s Zero Tolerance Program for Graduated Driver Licence (GDL) drivers – which to date included zero tolerance for alcohol in the bloodstream – will be extended to include cannabis, cannabis/alcohol combination and illegal drugs. A GDL driver with alcohol, cannabis or drugs over zero in the bloodstream will face an immediate 30-day licence suspension and 7-day vehicle seizure. Each 30 day suspension will require an additional one-year term in the GDL Program.
Each subsequent 30 day suspension during the driver’s final year of the GDL Program will require the driver to remain in the GDL program for an additional year.
It should be noted that GDL drivers who meet the requirements for criminal level impaired driving will be subject to all associated sanctions and penalties instead—e.g. 90-day licence suspension, mandatory ignition interlock, vehicle seizure, criminal charges, etc.
5. How do we know that introducing tougher sanctions will help to reduce impaired driving?
Numerous studies show that swift and certain consequences for impaired driving reduce the number of collisions. Specifically, two types of administrative sanctions—immediate licence suspensions and vehicle seizures—have been shown to significantly reduce impaired driving and associated collisions.
6. If my driver’s licence is suspended, how do I get it reinstated after the suspension term is over?
Depending on the type of suspension, there are various reinstatement conditions that may apply. . These may include attending an impaired driving course, participating in the Ignition Interlock Program, attending a hearing with the Alberta Transportation Safety Board, completing a Road Test, and completing knowledge testing, if the licence suspension is three years or longer.
7. What fees do I need to pay to reinstate my driver’s licence?
You are required to pay a $13 Government Fee plus a $9 (plus GST) Alberta Registry Agent Service Fee to obtain a “Restricted” or replacement Driver’s Licence.
You will be required to pay a Reinstatement Fee of:
- $50 – Reinstatement Fee for a Non-Alcohol-Related Suspension plus $9 (plus GST) Alberta Registry Agent Service Fee.
- $200 - Reinstatement Fee for an Alcohol-Related Suspension plus $9 (plus GST) Alberta Registry Agent Service Fee.
- If your driver’s licence has expired or is due to expire, you may renew it at the same time that you apply for a replacement or reissued driver’s licence. Driver’s licence renewal fees vary based on the number of years the licence is being extended.
These fees do not apply to drivers who are suspended for a period of 24-hours or three days, provided the driver’s licence is retrieved from the police agency that issued the licence suspension within one week of the suspension end date.
If the driver’s licence is not retrieved within seven days of the suspension end date, the police agency will destroy the driver’s licence, and you will be required to apply for a replacement driver’s licence at any Alberta Registry Agent (fees apply).
8. Can I appeal a driver’s licence suspension?
Any suspension that is longer than three days may be appealed through the Alberta Transportation Safety Board, an independent tribunal that hears appeals on a broad range of traffic safety issues. It must be appealed within 30 days of being issued.
If the suspension is for a duration less than three days, you have a right to request an immediate, second breath test on a different instrument at the roadside for alcohol or a blood test for drugs to confirm your blood alcohol or drug concentration.
9. Can I appeal a Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) Program driver’s licence suspension for zero tolerance?
For alcohol, you can request an immediate second breath test on a different instrument and for drugs, you can request a blood test, to confirm your blood alcohol or blood drug concentration.
You may also request a formal appeal through the Alberta Transportation Safety Board, an independent tribunal that hears appeals on a broad range of traffic issues.
10. If my vehicle is seized, what is the cost of the towing and impound charges?
Depending on the length of the tow ride and any additional equipment needed to complete the tow, but generally can start at $116 and increase approximately $2 per km. Storage fees vary, but are usually a minimum of $30 per day. These costs are an approximate based on Edmonton prices. In other locations, these costs may be greater.
11. Can I appeal a vehicle seizure?
The first three-day vehicle seizure may only be appealed at roadside by requesting a second confirmatory breath test. The second, third, and subsequent seven-day seizures can be appealed to the Alberta Transportation Safety Board.
12. If I lend my vehicle to a friend or family member and the vehicle is seized, can I get my vehicle back immediately since I own the vehicle and was not the driver? Will I be responsible for any costs or will my friend or family member be required to pay?
If you lend your vehicle to a friend or family member, you will be required to appeal the seizure to the Alberta Transportation Safety Board. As the registered owner, you are responsible for all costs involved in the seizure.
13. If the seized vehicle belongs to an employer or to a rental agency, can it be returned sooner?
Either the employer or rental car agency can appeal the seizure to the Alberta Transportation Safety Board. As the registered owner, they will be responsible for all costs involved in the seizure.
For detailed information on the Ignition Interlock Program, please visit www.transportation.alberta.ca/iip.htm.
14. Why should a person who only had drugs in their system have to install an ignition interlock device that can only detect alcohol?
Using an ignition interlock device for drug-impaired drivers is already common practice in Canada and in the United States, where recreational cannabis use is legalized. All Canadian provinces, including Alberta, already require ignition interlock device use for drug-impaired drivers convicted under the Criminal Code of Canada. States in the U.S.—namely Colorado, Oregon and Washington—that have legalized recreational cannabis use, include ignition interlock devices as a consequence for drug-impaired drivers.
There are a number of reasons for this practice. A driver who reaches the criminal level of drug impairment for cannabis or other drugs has proven to be a high-risk driver. Studies show that drugs are most often paired with alcohol. Very few drug users only use drugs alone.
- A 2014 roadside survey in Ontario found that 40 per cent of drivers, who had consumed illegal drugs, including cannabis, had also consumed alcohol.
- In Alberta, in 2013, 24.1 per cent of fatally-injured drivers tested positive for both alcohol and drugs.
Perhaps more importantly, the most serious levels of impairment are reached through the combination of alcohol and cannabis, or alcohol and other drugs. Requiring drug-impaired drivers to install an ignition interlock device will ensure that high-risk drivers are not able to pair alcohol with drugs before driving.
Finally, impaired driving is a serious and dangerous offence. Participation in the Ignition Interlock Program is one of the sanctions for impaired driving. Significant deterrents, like the Ignition Interlock Program, make people seriously consider the consequences of driving after consuming any impairing substance. Sanctions must be the same for all types of criminal impairment.
15. What is the cost of the Ignition Interlock Program?
The Ignition Interlock Program costs $1,398 (+GST) for one year. (Device installation: $145. Application Fee: $63 (Must be purchased for the Alberta Administrative Licence Suspension Ignition Interlock Program and the Mandatory Ignition Interlock Program). Monthly Rental Fee: $95 per month. Device Removal: $50). The suspended driver pays all fees.
16. What does the Planning Ahead Course include and what is the cost?
The Planning Ahead Course is a one-day program that covers impaired driving laws, the effect of alcohol on the body, and how to separate drinking and driving. There is a cost associated with this course. For more information on the Planning Ahead Course, please visit: www.ama.ab.ca/auto-and-driving/ama-driver-education/alberta-impaired-drivers-program/. Other courses may be required.
17. What does the IMPACT Program include and what is the cost?
IMPACT is a live-in, weekend residential program that teaches drivers to think about how alcohol and other drugs are affecting their lives. There is a cost associated with this course. For more information on the IMPACT Program, please visit: www.ama.ab.ca/auto-and-driving/ama-driver-education/alberta-impaired-drivers-program/. Other courses may be required.
18. What does the Crossroads Course include and what is the cost?
Crossroads is a 3 ½ hour course designed to prevent impaired driving. Participants will learn to identify how alcohol impairs skills at lower blood alcohol levels as well as developing action plans to avoid drinking and driving. There is a cost associated with this course. For more information on the Crossroads Course, please visit: www.ama.ab.ca/auto-and-driving/ama-driver-education/alberta-impaired-drivers-program/.
19. What is the role of the Alberta Transportation Safety Board when it comes to impaired driving?
Alberta Transportation Safety Board hears appeals of Alberta Administrative Licence Suspensions, second and subsequent vehicle seizures, and zero tolerance suspensions and seizures for GDL drivers.
20. Who are the members of the Alberta Transportation Safety Board?
Members of the Alberta Transportation Safety Board are trained community members. They serve on the Board for an initial period of three years and may be re-appointed for an additional three years. All Alberta Transportation Safety Board members are appointed by Order-in-Council and trained in the execution of their duties.
21. What are the qualifications of the Alberta Transportation Safety Board members?
Alberta Transportation Safety Board members are community members and have varying experience, from teachers to former lawyers, former municipal managers, ex-police officers, social workers and business people.