If you have just been arrested for your first drunk driving offense in Ontario, you might be surprised at what a big deal it is. Maybe you hoped to explain your way out of it: that didn’t work. Perhaps you thought you ‘d just pay a fine and it would disappear, but that doesn’t seem to be happening either.
The fact is, Ontario is pretty tough on impaired driving, even if there are no other aggravating circumstances (such as a collision, injury, or prior offenses). The choices are well-defined.
- Stream 1: If you plead guilty and are sentenced within 90 days, you’ll end up with a 3-month suspension and 9 months with an ignition interlock. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.
- Stream 2: If you go to trial and lose, or go more than 90 days before sentencing, you will receive a 6 month suspension and 12 months with an ignition interlock.
There are also fines, fees, and other expenses, as well as all the trouble caused by not being able to drive for a period.
Does this seem unnecessarily strict? After all, it was only a first offense.
In fact, it’s a necessary measure. There was a time when first DUI offenses were treated lightly, and the message did not sink in. Alcohol-related road deaths continued until provinces got serious about the crime of drunk driving. Drinking and driving is always dangerous: it’s dangerous whether or not you’ve been caught doing it before. And we know from studies that a drunk driver who is arrested has likely driven impaired many times.
Suspension and fines are the punitive measures: the ignition interlock is an educational one. It helps offenders get used to the idea that they cannot drink and drive. A surprising number of people need this lesson, judging by the number of repeat DUI offenders in Ontario and Canada. An interlock is the only way to ensure that a driver does not get behind the wheel while impaired.
So yes, Ontario is hard on first-time drunk drivers. And that’s a good thing. If it worries you, the solution is simple: don’t drink and drive. Ever.