In other countries it’s called driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI), but the Criminal Code of Canada uses the simple term impaired driving to describe the act of operating or having care and control of a vehicle after drinking alcohol or doing drugs.
Impaired driving in Canada is illegal, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are given the power to set up checkpoints and ask people to submit to a breathalyzer test if they suspect them of drinking and driving.
Over the past few years, impaired driving laws have increased penalties to really crack down on impaired drivers in Canada, but it wasn’t always that way. If you ask someone who lived in Canada in the early 1900’s, they’ll tell you that almost everyone drove drunk at one time or another.
The first reported criminal case for impaired driving in Canada didn’t happen until 1920, and it was found that driving while impaired was unlawful and could support the possibility of a manslaughter conviction because alcohol was involved in a crash.
One year later, in 1921, the Parliament of Canada recognized impaired driving as a summary conviction offense, but at that time they called it driving while intoxicated. The first penalty for the offense was seven days in jail, and if you were a second a time offender, you received one month in jail. It wasn’t until 1925 that the term ‘care and control’ of a vehicle was introduced, and at that point even if you weren’t driving the vehicle, if you had control of it, you could be charged with driving while intoxicated.
The police began using breathalyzers for mass testing of all blood alcohol concentrations (BAC) in 1962, and that prompted the Parliament of Canada to enact the ‘over 80’ law. That meant anyone who had a BAC over. 08 could not legally drive a vehicle, and if stopped, they would receive an impaired driving charge.
These days provinces have additional charges and penalties that are harsher than jail time—driver’s license suspensions, ignition interlock programs, and drug and alcohol counseling have become mandatory for first time offenders. With these penalties the rates for impaired driving in Canada continue to drop.
Can you imagine what life would be like in Canada without impaired driving laws? Taking a look at the history of impaired driving is a good reminder to think before you drink, and get a sober friend to drive you home.