Canada’s impaired driving record is poor by international standards.

While a great deal of work remains to be done at the federal level to reduce impaired driving, MADD Canada believes the provinces and territories should not wait for federal Criminal Code amendments when they have the legislative power to make significant road safety improvements in their own jurisdictions.

2015 Provincial and Territorial Legislative Review

The 2015 Provincial and Territorial Legislative Review (PDF) is the sixth comprehensive assessment that MADD Canada has undertaken and published since 2000. (Previous versions were called Rating the Provinces.) Its goal is to provide the provinces and territories with information on realistic and effective measures that will reduce impaired driving in their jurisdictions.

MADD Canada supports the following impaired driving countermeasures as provincial/territorial best practices to reduce impaired driving.

  • A comprehensive three-year graduated licensing program for all new drivers, which includes: express police enforcement powers; passenger, nighttime and highway restrictions; a ban on using any electronic devices; and mandatory roadside administrative licencesuspensions (ALSs) for breaching the program conditions.
  • A .00% BAC limit for all drivers under 21 or with less than five years driving experience, with express police enforcement powers and mandatory roadside ALSs for breaching the program.
  • A prohibition on being positive for any illicit psychoactive drug for all drivers under 21 or with less than five years driving experience. The legislation should include express statutory police enforcement powers and mandatory roadside ALSs for breaching the prohibition.
  • A seven-day .05% ALS and vehicle impoundment program, which includes a $150-$300 licence reinstatement fee and the recording the suspensions on the driver’s record. Drivers with repeat infringements within five years should be subject to remedial programs and escalating suspensions and vehicle impoundment sanctions
  • A parallel ALS and vehicle impoundment program for: drivers whose ability to drive, based on a standard field sobriety test or drug recognition evaluation, is reasonably believed to be impaired by drugs or a combination of drugs and alcohol; and drivers who refuse any lawfully demanded test.
  • A mandatory alcohol interlock program for all federal impaired driving offenders, which includes: reduced provincial licence suspensions to encourage participation; and escalating ALS and vehicle impoundment sanctions for repeat violations. These drivers should also be subject to lengthy extensions of their interlock orders.
  • Administrative vehicle impoundments for uninsured, unlicensed, suspended, prohibited, and disqualified drivers. Mandatory administrative vehicle forfeiture for drivers with three or more federal impaired driving or other Criminal Code traffic convictions within 10 years.
  • Mandatory remedial programs for all federal impaired driving offenders, and for drivers with repeat, short-term or 90-day impairment-related ALS within five years.

Most provinces have legislation that addresses, to some extent, the assessment criteria of the report but key elements of comprehensive and effective programs are often missing, and much of the legislation needs to be strengthened. There are broad variations in the current provincial legislation. The Report assesses provincial and territorial impaired driving legislation in terms of domestic and international best practices. Most jurisdictions have programs that address, in some fashion, almost all of the 2012 legislative priorities. However, much of the current legislation needs to be expanded and strengthened. Similarly, there are broad discrepancies in the progress made across the legislative priorities. Considerable strides have been made with respect to graduated licensing, .00% BAC limits for young drivers, the short term ALS programs, and the alcohol interlock and remedial initiatives. However, less progress has been made on police enforcement powers, and virtually nothing has been done in terms of administrative vehicle forfeiture. MADD Canada is also concerned about the often long delays between the passing of legislation and its coming into force.

The following outline MADD Canada’s key provincial and territorial public policy initiatives:

Administrative licence suspension (ALS) programs were initiated in the late 70s and early 80s to address the problem of impaired drivers who, while under the Criminal Code limit of .08% BAC, still represent a significant danger to others on the road.

As research has consistently shown, key driving-related skills are impaired at .05% and the relative risk of a crash death rises sharply at that level. By taking risky drivers off the roads, ALS programs reduce the rate of impaired driving crashes, deaths and injuries.

The programs also carry a significant deterrent value, provided they have the appropriate components. A shortcoming of the early ALS programs, and one which still exists in some provinces and jurisdictions today, is the short duration of the suspensions. Drivers often have their licences back in 24 hours or less, and that offers little incentive for them to change their behaviours.

MADD Canada first advocated for comprehensive ALS programs at .05% BAC level in its 2003Rating the Provinces and Territories Report. Working with the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators (CCMTA), we developed a model .05% Administrative Licence Suspension Program based on existing best practices in Canada. The model we recommend includes:

  • 7 – 14 day licence suspension for first offences, with  30, 45 and 60 day suspensions for second, third and subsequent infractions within a three year period.
  • Vehicle impoundments.
  • Mandatory licence reinstatement fee of $150 – $300.
  • The recording of the suspension on the drivers’ record.
  • Mandatory remedial measures (alcohol assessment, education, rehabilitation) for repeat offenders.

All provinces and territories except Quebec have some form of ALS program. Few achieve the best practice model but there here have been advances in the last few years, with  Ontario, British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia all increasing their suspension periods.

.05% Sanctions and the Social Drinker

Critics of administrative licence suspension program argue that it penalizes the social drinker and suggest that people can no longer have a beer after work or a glass of wine with dinner because that will put them over the.05% level.  The truth is a .05% BAC limit does not interfere with what most Canadians would consider to be social drinking. Based on estimates of BACs in relation to time, weight and standard Canadian drinks, a 185 lb. man can have three drinks over a two hour period and not go over the .05% BAC limit. Likewise, a  130 lb. woman can have two standard drinks over a two-hour period and not go over .05%.

The safest way, always, is to separate drinking from driving entirely. If you’re going to be drinking, plan ahead; call a cab, take public transportation or arrange for a designated driver. Driving impaired simply is not worth the risk.

The statistics for alcohol-related crashes among young drivers are particularly alarming. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among 15 to 25 year olds, and alcohol is a factor in 45% of those crashes.

Laws requiring young people to maintain a zero BAC level while driving have been shown to reduce impaired driving among young drivers.

The .00% BAC requirement begins as part of the provincial/territorial graduated licensing programs, which include a number of restrictions for new drivers as they are developing their driving skills. The major limitation with most provincial/territorial .00% BAC requirements, however, is that they are typically lifted when the driver completes the program, which usually happens at 18 or 19 years of age. This corresponds to the legal drinking age in most provinces and is a time when alcohol and binge drinking increase. It is also the age at which teenagers are the most vulnerable to alcohol-related crashes.

MADD Canada recommends a .00% BAC restriction to all drivers under 21, even if the driver has successfully completed the graduated licensing program.  The research and statistics clearly support this measure as an effective way to reduce alcohol-related crashes and fatalities among young people.

A comprehensive Graduated Licensing Program (GLP) is vital to any policy aimed at reducing crash risks among youth. In the 1990s, jurisdictions across Canada began introducing GLPs for new drivers in the 1990s. Today, every provinces and territory except Nunavut has GLPs.

These programs typically involve a combination of mandatory supervised driving and restrictions on the passengers, night-time driving, high-speed roads and alcohol consumptions. They are designed to allow new drivers to gain on-the-road experience in low-risk circumstances.

Research has consistently shown that GLPs are associated with significant reductions in crash deaths and injuries among affected drivers.

MADD Canada recommends a comprehensive graduated licensing program lasting at least three years for all new drivers, and express police powers to enforce it. The program should include two stages:

  • Stage 1: Driver must be supervised at all times by a licensed adult and subject to stringent conditions. This stage should be a minimum of 12 months.
  • Stage 2: Driver can drive unsupervised in some situations but must be supervised in more challenging situations. This stage should last a minimum of 24 months.

MADD Canada also recommends the minimum driving age should be 16.

Alcohol ignition interlocks are an effective tool in the fight to stop impaired driving, yet they are not used broadly or consistently across the country.

Using the same technology as the roadside breathalyzers administered by police, an ignition interlock prevents a car from starting or remaining operational if the driver’s breath indicates his or her blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is over a pre-set limit.

In conjunction with rehabilitation and educational programs, interlock programs help modify the behaviour of drinking drivers. The technology gives offenders who have lost their licences a chance to regain conditional driving privileges while at the same time ensuring they cannot operate a vehicle if they are impaired.

The recidivism rate of interlock program participants is up to 90% lower than that of non-participants. Once the interlock is removed, the rates are comparable between program participants and non-participants. This highlights the needs to incorporate rehabilitation programs for interlock participants to deal with the problems that led to the offence.

Despite the evidence of their effectiveness, interlock usage is limited across the country. With approximately 34,000 impaired driving convictions annually (for the year 2007/2008), only about 13,000 interlocks were used in 2008.

Significantly more could be done to encourage and/or mandate participation by eligible offenders.

All provinces and territories except the Yukon have some form of ignition interlock program for convicted impaired drivers. However these programs are often voluntary. The participation rate in voluntary programs is just 10% of those convicted. MADD Canada recommends mandatory interlocks for all convicted impaired driving offenders, including reduced provincial suspensions to encourage participation.

While some may be surprised by MADD Canada’s support of a program which results in convicted offenders getting their licences back earlier, it is our position that offering early licence reinstatement, along with rehabilitation and remedial programs, to first-time offenders who meet the eligibility requires is an important way to change their behavioiur and prevent them from become repeat offenders. These programs, when comprehensive and properly implemented, help the driver change their behaviour and stop their drinking and driving permanently.

Many suspended and prohibited drivers continue to drive, at least occasionally, during the period of their licence suspension or revocation and they are more likely to be involved in crashes than licensed drivers.

Research shows that licence suspensions alone are not sufficient to keep certain offenders off the roads and therefore, additional vehicle-based sanctions are warranted to discourage and at least temporarily prevent some unlicensed, disqualified and prohibited offenders from driving and, particularly, from driving while impaired.

Vehicle Impoundment

Vehicle impoundments have shown positive results in reducing recidivism and subsequent crashes among affected drivers.

MADD Canada recommends the impoundment or immobilization of any vehicle police have reasonable grounds to believe is uninsured or is being driven by an unlicensed, suspended or disqualified or prohibited driver. These drivers have shown they are unwilling to respect provincial licensing laws, and pose a very serious risk to public safety. The impoundment period should be 45 days for a first occurrence and 90 days for a second occurrence within three years.

In addition to the longer-term impoundment program for those caught driving without a valid licence, MADD Canada recommends a short-term (7-day) impoundment where there are reasonable grounds to believe that the driver has committed an impaired driving offence.  These short-term administrative impoundments are intended to supplement the roadside and administrative licence suspension provisions and serve to immediately remove impaired drivers and their vehicles from the road, and reduce the risk that these individuals will drive during the administrative suspension period.

Vehicle Forfeiture

MADD Canada recommends provinces/territories implement a vehicle forfeiture program for driver who are responsible for three or more vehicle impoundments within a ten year period.

These individuals show a repeated willingness to endanger the public and violate vehicle licensing laws.  Additionally, they often have limited or no third-party liability insurance, which puts the public at risk of serious financial loss in the event of a crash.

Vehicle forfeiture programs have not been widely implemented in Canada and research into their effectiveness is limited. Nevertheless, existing research suggests that vehicle forfeiture programs are associated with reductions in alcohol-related crashes, fatalities and arrests.

Drug-impaired driving is an increasingly serious problem in Canada. The presence of drugs other than alcohol in fatally-injured drivers increased by 24% from 2000 to 2008 (the most common drugs are cannabis, cocaine, amphetamines, and depressants.) Drug impaired driving is also a serious concern among young people, with several regional and national surveys indicating more young Canadians report driving after using cannabis than after consuming alcohol.

Drug impaired drivers are currently detected through special enforcement techniques used by police, including the standardized field sobriety test (SFTS) and drug recognition evaluation (DRE).

MADD Canada recommends that provinces and territories establish administrative programs for drug-impaired drivers which would mirror existing programs for alcohol-impaired drivers:

  • A prohibition on the presence of illicit psychoactive drugs for all drivers under 21 or with less than five years driving experience. This approach would mirror the .00% BAC requirement on all young and new drivers. The proposed legislation should include express police enforcement powers and mandatory licence suspensions for violating the condition.
  • Similar to the administrative licence suspension program for drivers with BACs of .05% and higher, a parallel program should be in place for: drivers whose ability to drive, based on an SFST or DRE, is reasonably believed to be impaired by drugs or a combination of drugs and alcohol;  and for drivers who refuse to submit to an SFSST, DRE or other lawfully demanded test.