Driving under the influence of drugs: what you should know
Although most people know that driving doesn’t mix well with drugs and alcohol, driving under the influence is nevertheless common practice in Quebec.
In terms of the law, the rules are very precise regarding the maximum concentration of alcohol or drugs one can have in the blood while driving. Anyone caught exceeding these limits will face severe penalties.
Prohibited medications behind the wheel
Numerous prescription and over-the-counter medications can produce side effects that are incompatible with driving. Some of these medications may cause one or more of the following symptoms:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Blurred vision
- Memory loss
These medications include antidepressants, sleep aids, antihistamines, decongestants, muscle relaxers and certain pain relievers.
If you’re taking one or more of these medications, make sure to read the instructions for use carefully and avoid driving at all costs immediately after consuming them.
Why is driving under the influence of cannabis subject to penalties?
Cannabis produces effects on the brain that can alter one’s ability to concentrate. Impaired attention and reflexes can lead to coordination problems, slower reactions, confusion and, in some cases, even anxiety.
The consumption of cannabis before driving can have the following effects:
- Inability to correctly judge one’s distance from other vehicles
- Failure to notice traffic signs and signals
- Slowed reactions in the event of an emergency
- Risks of veering off the road
- Passing other vehicles in an unsafe manner
You should also be aware that it can take up to two hours for cannabis to take full effect when you ingest it (rather than inhaling it). As a result, some people may believe they can consume more, sometimes finding themselves behind the wheel as the full effects kick in. Be extra careful!
How law enforcement monitors driving under the influence of cannabis/THC
In Quebec, police officers are trained to detect whether a driver has consumed drugs of any kind.
In such cases, a driver suspected of having consumed drugs must submit to certain field sobriety tests in order for the officer to determine if he or she is fit to drive.
Examples of field sobriety tests
- In the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test, the officer is able to identify any involuntary jerking movements of the eyes by asking the driver to track a moving object, such as a pen or flashlight.
- In the walk-and-turn test, the officer asks the driver to walk along a straight line and then return.
- In the one-leg stand test, the officer asks the driver to stand on one foot and count aloud.
If the officer takes the driver to the police station, a drug-detection expert will administer a series of more conclusive tests:
- Pulse, body temperature and blood pressure checks
- Examination of the mouth and nostrils
- Verification of muscle tone
- Examination of the arms and neck to detect any possible injection sites
- Samples of urine or other bodily substances
Drugs and alcohol at the wheel: differences in the eyes of the law
Driving under the influence of either alcohol or drugs can lead to severe penalties under the Criminal Code and the Highway Safety Code.
While the penalties incurred for consuming alcohol, drugs or medication prior to driving may be similar, the maximum permitted blood-concentration is different for each substance.
Alcohol: 80 milligrams (mg) of alcohol or more per 100 milliliters (mL) of blood
Cannabis (THC): between 2 and 5 nanograms (ng) of THC per milliliter of blood results in a minor offense, while 5 ng or more represents a more serious offense
Combination of cannabis and alcohol: 50 mg or more alcohol per 100 mL of blood and 2.5 ng or more THC per milliliter of blood
In the event that someone has only 50 mg of alcohol per 100 mL of blood, that person may also be unfit to drive. Under Section 320.14 (1) of the Criminal Code, he or she could be accused of driving with impaired faculties upon exhibiting certain symptoms. The law specifies that the effects of alcohol may impair one’s faculties to “any degree.” Therefore, one doesn’t have to be falling-down drunk to be accused of driving with impaired faculties.
According to Section 320.14 (1) of the Criminal Code, anyone who does the following is committing an offense:
a) operates a conveyance while the person’s ability to operate it is impaired to any degree by alcohol or a drug or by a combination of alcohol and a drug;
b) subject to subsection (5), has, within two hours after ceasing to operate a conveyance, a blood alcohol concentration that is equal to or exceeds 80 mg of alcohol in 100 mL of blood;
c) subject to subsection (6), has, within two hours after ceasing to operate a conveyance, a blood drug concentration that is equal to or exceeds the blood drug concentration for the drug that is prescribed by regulation;
d) subject to subsection (7), has, within two hours after ceasing to operate a conveyance, a blood alcohol concentration and a blood drug concentration that is equal to or exceeds the blood alcohol concentration and the blood drug concentration for the drug that are prescribed by regulation for instances where alcohol and that drug are combined.
Driving under the influence of drugs: penalties and consequences
Driving under the influence of cannabis or any other type of drug is a serious violation that can result in fines, a revoked driver’s license, a criminal record, and in some cases, a prison sentence.
Even if a court of law hasn’t yet found you guilty, the police have the right to suspend your driver’s license for a period ranging from 24 hours to 90 days. In the event that you are found guilty, the fines or other penalties for driving under the influence of THC or driving with impaired faculties are more severe.
According to the type of violation, the Criminal Code establishes varying penalties:
- First offense: a minimum fine of $1,000 (and possible imprisonment)
- Second offense: imprisonment for a minimum of 30 days
- Each subsequent offense: imprisonment for a minimum of 120 days
The court can impose more severe penalties; however, the maximum prison sentence for any of these violations is 10 years.
What to do if you’re arrested for driving under the influence of drugs
If you’ve been arrested for driving under the influence of drugs, you won’t have a criminal record until a court finds you guilty. Furthermore, you have the right to remain silent and the right to consult an attorney in order to ascertain your rights and responsibilities.
However, the law obligates you to submit to any tests the police request; otherwise, you will be committing a criminal offense subject to severe penalties, as established in Section 320.15 (1) Failure or refusal to comply with demand.
Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol: seek the assistance of a specialized lawyer
Have you been arrested for driving under the influence of drugs? You should immediately contact criminal attorney Martine Thibodeau to enforce your rights. Ms. Thibodeau’s availability and professional rigor will help you achieve the best possible outcome in your situation.
SAAQ. Profil détaillé des faits et des statistiques touchant l’alcool et les drogues au volant [Detailed profile of the facts and statistics related to driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs]
Drugs and driving – it’s criminal: https://saaq.gouv.qc.ca/en/road-safety/client-groups/young-drivers/drugs
Cannabis Impairs Driving: https://saaq.gouv.qc.ca/en/idrivemyownlife/alcohol-drugs/cannabis-impairs-driving
How drugs can be detected: https://saaq.gouv.qc.ca/en/idrivemyownlife/alcohol-drugs/cannabis-impairs-driving
CAA QUÉBEC. Cannabis-impaired driving: road safety above all.
GOVERNMENT OF CANADA. Impaired Driving Laws.