Driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs

How drugs and alcohol reduce your ability to drive, the risks and consequences of impaired driving, advice for parents.

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Risks of impaired driving

Driving a motor vehicle while impaired by drugs or alcohol reduces your ability to drive safely. This includes driving:

  • cars
  • trucks
  • motorcycles
  • boats
  • snowmobiles
  • off-road vehicles

Driving while impaired puts everyone at risk, including passengers, drivers and pedestrians.

Serious accidents can happen when a driver is impaired by alcohol or drugs. In Canada, 30% to 50% of all fatal road crashes involve a driver who consumed alcohol, drugs or both.

How alcohol and drugs reduce your driving ability

Your brain needs to be alert and focused when you drive. Even small amounts of alcohol or drugs can affect your ability to drive safely. Alcohol and drugs act on your brain and body in different ways and can reduce your:

  • attention
  • judgment
  • motor skills
  • reaction time
  • decision-making skills
  • balance and coordination

Potential criminal consequences of impaired driving

Driving any motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol or drugs is illegal under the Criminal Code of Canada. Consequences are serious and can include:

  • fines
  • loss of your driver's licence
  • jail-time

Police can test drivers for alcohol levels using breath tests. Police also have tools to check if a person is impaired by drugs, including cannabis.

Each province and territory has its own limits for what is considered impaired. Limits can also depend on the driver's age. It is your responsibility to know and understand these limits.

Substances that contribute to collisions

Legal and illegal substances most commonly consumed by drivers who were involved in accidents include:

After alcohol, cannabis is the drug most often linked to car accidents. Cannabis can cause drowsiness and impair your ability to concentrate and make quick decisions. Using it and driving increases the risk of having a car accident. Driving skills are further reduced if alcohol and cannabis are used together.

Prescription drugs, including opioid pain relievers and benzodiazepines can also impair driving ability. Always read and follow any instructions provided with your medications.

Impaired driving among teenagers and young adults: advice for parents

Many car crashes involving teenagers are caused by lack of experience and poor judgment. Driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs further increases the risk of fatal and non-fatal car accidents.

According to the 2018-2019 Canadian Student Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey:

  • 7% of students in grades 10 to 12 reported having driven a vehicle within 2 hours of cannabis use in their lifetime
  • 15% of students in grades 7 to 12 reported being a passenger in a motor vehicle driven by someone who had used cannabis in the previous 2 hours in their lifetime

Parents play an important role in talking to their teenagers about driving responsibly and the importance of never getting into a car with someone who is impaired by alcohol or drugs.

Parents can:

  • make it clear that using alcohol, cannabis or other drugs when driving is dangerous because it impairs driving ability
  • remind teens that it is always illegal to drive impaired by alcohol or drugs
  • talk about the potential for criminal consequences such as a criminal record or jail time
  • discuss the dangers of getting into a car with a driver who has been drinking or using drugs
  • show safe driving behaviour by never driving any vehicle impaired
  • talk about safe ways of getting home if someone has been using alcohol or drugs, including calling a parent, using public transit, ride-sharing, or taking a taxi

Get help

If you or someone you care about is struggling with alcohol or drug use, help is available.

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