Most drivers in Canada are acquainted with the .08 BAC number. If you are arrested while driving with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or above in any province, you’ve violated a criminal code. At .08 you are legally drunk, and by any measure unfit and unable to operate a vehicle.
Driving with a BAC of .08 or above is a criminal offense. However, most provinces impose penalties for driving with a BAC of .05 or above. There is a reason: about 20% of crashes are caused by drivers whose breath alcohol concentration is below .08.
The penalty, imposed by all provinces except Quebec, is immediate administrative licence suspension. “Administrative” means that the suspension does not depend on criminal proceedings; it occurs automatically when the offense is recorded.
The length of the suspension varies by province. A first occurrence will get you 24 hours in Yukon or Manitoba, three days in Ontario or British Columbia, and a week in Newfoundland. For subsequent occurrences, the suspension times go up: 15 days for a second offense in Alberta, 90 days for a fourth occurrence in Saskatchewan.
These administrative suspensions came about in the 1970s and 80s because there are a lot of drivers who were endangering the public despite being under the criminal code limit of .08. Key driving skills are compromised at .05: drivers react more slowly and make poor decisions. That is why .05 is a much more common legal limit in Europe, and some countries prohibit drivers from getting behind the wheel with a BAC of .02.
Administrative licence suspension is a useful tool for taking risky drivers off the roads. MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) Canada recommends other measures as well:
- Vehicle impoundments
- Mandatory licence reinstatement fees of $150 – 300
- Recording the suspension on a drivers’ record
- Mandatory alcohol assessment and rehabilitation for repeat offenders
Measures like this would help Canadians think twice before drinking any amount and driving.