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Suspensions cut for impaired drivers
November 7, 2012
The mandatory one-year licence suspension for Ontario drivers convicted of a first drink-drive offence has been reduced for those prepared to install an alcohol ignition interlock device.
Regulations that took effect August 3, 2010, allow persons who plead guilty to impaired driving, drive over 80 or refuse breath sample to get back behind the wheel within 90 days if they agree to use the interlock device for at least nine months.
Longer suspension after trial
Drivers who choose to fight their charges but lose at trial are eligible to resume driving six months after conviction and sentence. They must drive with an ignition interlock device for at least 12 months.
Formerly Ontario drivers convicted of a first alcohol-related driving offence faced a one-year licence suspension. Before licence reinstatement, they had to complete Back on Track, a remedial measures program, and once reinstated use an interlock device for at least one year.
An alcohol ignition interlock device is a dashboard-mounted mechanism into which the driver must blow before the motor can start. If it detects a blood alcohol concentration greater than a pre-set limit (in Ontario, 20 mgs% or 0.02%), it prevents ignition.
The one-year licence suspension under Ontario law mirrors the prohibition imposed under the Criminal Code which bars offenders from driving anywhere in Canada. For a first drink-drive offence, offenders face a prohibition of one to three years. The Criminal Code has been amended to allow offenders to drive during the prohibition period in provinces with an alcohol ignition interlock program such as the one Ontario is about to introduce.
Guilty plea within 90 days
To be eligible for the three-month suspension, drivers must plead guilty and be sentenced within 90 days of the offence. Then, within three months they must complete the assessment component of Back on Track and lease an ignition interlock device. Completion of these requirements constitutes an application for the ignition interlock program.
Before entering the program, eligible drivers also must pay all outstanding fees and any other active suspensions must have expired or been removed.
The three-month suspension overlaps any remaining portion of the 90-day licence suspension imposed on the offence date for charges of over 80 and refuse sample.
Drivers who elect not to enter the program will face a one-year suspension followed by one year of ignition interlock as a condition of licence reinstatement. Those wishing to avoid the interlock altogether must wait out the one-year interlock requirement period.
Some offenders ineligible
Drivers convicted of a first drunk driving offence are ineligible for the reduced suspension if:
- the offence resulted in bodily harm or death
- the offence involved impairment by drugs or a combination of drugs and alcohol (as the charging document may refer to impairment by a drug even without evidence of any, request to have any such reference deleted before the court makes a finding of guilt)
- they have convictions within the past 10 years for other Criminal Code driving offences of fail to remain at the scene of an accident, dangerous driving, street racing and flee police
- they have been convicted of drive disqualified contrary to section 259(4) of the Criminal Code within the five years preceding their alcohol-impaired driving conviction
- they are subject on the offence date to an ignition interlock condition
- they have been granted a reduction to 10 years of a lifetime suspension (following a third Criminal Code driving conviction)
Court can lengthen suspension
Offenders are eligible for the reduced suspension unless the court upon sentencing orders otherwise. If there are aggravating factors, the Crown prosecutor may ask the court to lengthen the suspension up to the end of the Criminal Code prohibition period (usually one year for a first offence). Such factors include:
- a record under the Ontario Highway Traffic Act for bad driving, especially convictions for driving under suspension or careless driving involving alcohol
- a record for impaired driving offences older than 10 years
- an accident with extensive property damage
- the offence involves excessive speed, racing, flight from police, or other conduct posing a high risk to others
- additional charges were laid for conduct that interferes with the enforcement of drink-drive laws, such as fail to remain at the scene of an accident, flight from police or refuse to provide breath samples
- the presence of vulnerable passengers such as children
- the offence involves high blood-alcohol readings which may indicate a serious alcohol problem (the Criminal Code deems aggravating a reading over 160 mgs%, that is, twice the legal limit)
- other evidence of chronic alcoholism
To reflect aggravating factors, such as a high blood alcohol concentration, instead of seeking a longer period of interlock ineligibility, the Crown could seek a longer period of interlock. To do so, it would ask the court to impose a prohibition period longer than the one-year minimum; the interlock requirement continues until the end of the prohibition period.
Impaired Driving Due to a Drug
If you’ve been charged with impaired driving as a result of a drug or a combination of drugs and alcohol, police and court staff will endorse your file with an “S” to signify drugs. This alerts ministry staff, once informed of a conviction, not to offer you early interlock. After your one-year suspension (for a first offence) has lapsed, you’ll need to drive with an interlock device for at least a year.
Also, you must complete the Back on Track program. While geared mostly to alcohol abuse and driving, the program also addresses other substances.
Removal from program
Once your licence is reinstated so that you can participate in the early interlock program, you have 30 days in which to install the device. Failure to meet this limit may result in your being subject to the regular suspension period.
If you’ve installed an interlock as part of the program, you’ll be kicked out and subject to the regular suspension if you do any of the following:
- tamper with or remove the interlock without authorization
- fail to bring the interlock in for inspection and service as required (at least once every 60 days)
- operate a motor vehicle not equipped with an interlock device
- your driver’s licence is suspended for a new drink drive offence or for registering a warn on a roadside screening device
- are convicted of any offence under the Highway Traffic Act that prescribes a blood alcohol concentration limit (e.g., zero alcohol for novice drivers and those under the age of 21)
For more information on the program see the Ministry of Transportation website.