With New Year’s Eve just around the corner, it is important to bear in mind the many consequences associated with drinking and driving.
Each year, more than 1,000 Canadians are killed by impaired drivers and another 60,000 Canadians are injured in impairment-related crashes (http://madd.ca/pages/impaired-driving/overview/statistics/).
Over 210,000 vehicles are damaged every year in impairment-related crashes as well (http://madd.ca/pages/impaired-driving/overview/statistics/).
In 2011, police across Canada recorded over 90,000 impaired-driving incidents (http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/2013001/article/11739-eng.htm).
A study referred to by Statistics Canada (http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/2013001/article/11739-eng.htm) found that 4% of Ontarians responding to a survey reported that they had driven after consuming two or more drinks in the preceding hour. Although this rate is lower than in a number of other provinces (for instance, 10.3% in Saskatchewan), this is cause for concern.
If police pull over a vehicle (note that this does not require any indication of poor driving) and, through speaking with the driver and through making other observations, reasonably suspect that the driver has any amount of alcohol in their system, the police are entitled to make an Approved Screening Device (ASD) demand. Except in unusual circumstances, there is no right to contact a lawyer before performing the ASD testing.
It is a criminal offence to refuse to blow into an ASD after a lawful demand has been made by police. The mandatory minimum sentence for this refusal offence is the same as it is for impaired driving (for a first offence, a $1,000 fine plus a 1-year driving prohibition).
The ASD provides the police with rudimentary information about the driver’s blood-alcohol concentration (BAC).
If the ASD shows that your reading is below 0.05 (that is, below 50 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood), you are likely to not face any penalty (unless, of course, the officer believes that you are nevertheless impaired—possibly by something other than alcohol).
If the ASD reading shows that you are in the “warm range” between 0.05 and 0.08 (between 50 and 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood), you are subject to a quasi-criminal penalty (outlined here: http://www.mto.gov.on.ca/english/safety/impaired-driving.shtml), including a roadside licence suspension and a monetary penalty. The penalties can get very serious with repeat instances of driving with a BAC between 0.05 and 0.08.
If the ASD registers a “fail” reading, you will in almost every instance be given a breath demand, which requires you to provide breath samples into what is commonly referred to as a “Breathalyzer.” This machine is a lot more technologically advanced and more precise than the ASD. (Someone in police custody has the right to call a lawyer before performing the Breathalyzer testing; remember that there is no such right with respect to the screening device (the ASD).)
As with the ASD demand, it is a criminal offence to refuse to comply with a lawful breath demand.
It is a criminal offence to drive or to be in care or control of a motorized vehicle (which can include “sleeping one off” in the car) while having a BAC over 0.08 (80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood). Because of the existence of mandatory minimum penalties (a starting point of a $1,000 fine plus a 1-year driving prohibition for a first offence, with mandatory jail sentences beginning for the second offence), any finding of guilt with respect to the criminal offence of impaired driving will result in a criminal record.
Having a criminal record can make it extremely difficult to find employment (especially well-paying jobs). It can also severely limit your ability to travel outside of Canada. In fact, because of mandatory driving prohibitions and because of the fact that many insurance companies will not offer insurance (or will only do so at astronomical rates) to those with impaired-driving records, travel within the country—indeed, within a particular community—can be very difficult as well.
As the Ontario Ministry of Transportation website (http://www.mto.gov.on.ca/english/safety/impaired-driving.shtml) emphasizes, “Once you take a drink, there is no way to guess what your BAC is.” A wide variety of factors (http://www.mto.gov.on.ca/english/safety/impaired-driving.shtml) can impact blood-alcohol level, including: how quickly alcohol is consumed, whether you are male or female, height and weight, how much food is in your stomach, how much sleep you’ve had, and how much physical exertion you’ve had.
There are too many variables to keep track of; in fact, consuming two drinks on a Monday may result in a particular BAC reading, while consuming those same two drinks later in the week may result in a higher or lower reading, depending on what other factors have changed. This article (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/zach-goudie-breathalyzer-lesson-1.3378347) does an excellent job of illustrating just how difficult it is for individuals to estimate their BAC readings.
Therefore, if you are driving, your BAC should be 0.00. (In fact, if you are 21 years old or younger or if you are a novice driver (of any age), it is illegal to have any amount of alcohol in your system.) Anything other than that is not worth the risk.
If you are drinking, take transit home (many cities, including Toronto, are offering free public transit on New Year’s Eve), take a cab, arrange for a designated driver, call a company that will drive your vehicle home for you and give you a ride, or stay the night.
Even if your cab ride works out to be rather expensive, take that cost certainty—it’s guaranteed to be cheaper than the costs associated with having a criminal record or with knowing that you’ve injured or killed someone by driving drunk.