Increased Penalties for Drinking and Driving

On December 18, 2018, Parliament made significant changes to drinking and driving laws. Filkow Law’s Anthony Robinson wrote and presented a paper explaining these changes to the Trial Lawyers Association of British Columbia on September 24, 2021. This is the fourth instalment of this paper, explaining the increased penalties for drinking and driving.

Increased Penalties for Drinking and Driving

The following is an excerpt regarding some of the increased penalties for a conviction of a criminal driving offence:

Mandatory minimum sentences now apply to dangerous operation causing bodily harm and causing death as well as fleeing the scene of an accident causing bodily harm and death.

There are now tiered fines for having a BAC over certain thresholds. A first conviction for having a BAC equal to or exceeding 120mgs% but less than 160mgs% will result in a minimum fine of $1500. If the BAC is greater than 160mgs%, the minimum fine is $2000. The minimum fine for a first offence for refusing to provide a breath sample is doubled to $2000.

The maximum jail sentence for impaired driving and refusal to provide a sample increased from 5 years to 10 years if prosecuted by indictment. This will result in automatic deportation for convicted foreign nationals or permanent residents.

Driving prohibitions under the Code for impaired driving, over .08 and refusal are:

  • For the first offence, a minimum of 1 year to a maximum of 3 years (plus any period of imprisonment).
  • For the second offence, a minimum of 2 years to a maximum of 10 years (plus any period of imprisonment).
  • For each subsequent offence, a minimum of 3 years with no maximum (plus any period of imprisonment).

There are also mandatory prohibitions under the British Columbia Motor Vehicle Act for Criminal Code driving convictions.

Section 320.22 sets out aggravating features that the court must consider on sentencing. The factors are:

(a) the commission of the offence resulted in bodily harm to, or the death of, more than one person;

(b) the offender was operating a motor vehicle in a race with at least one other motor vehicle or in a contest of speed, on a street, road or highway or in another public place;

(c) a person under the age of 16 years was a passenger in the conveyance operated by the offender;

(d) the offender was being remunerated for operating the conveyance;

(e) the offender’s blood alcohol concentration at the time of committing the offence was equal to or exceeded 120 mg of alcohol in 100 mL of blood;

(f)  the offender was operating a large motor vehicle;[1] and

(g) the offender was not permitted, under a federal or provincial Act, to operate the conveyance.

This list of aggravating factors is not exhaustive.

A first offence for over .08 with a BAC below 120 mgs% is $1000. A first offence with a BAC in excess of 120mgs% carries a mandatory increased fine ($1500 if the readings are between 120 and 160 mgs% and $2000 if more than 160 mgs%). Therefore, for first offenders, the aggravating feature of having a BAC in excess of 120mgs% is already accounted for by the mandatory minimum sentence. However, this aggravating feature is not accounted for for subsequent offences or if bodily harm or death is involved.

[1] Cases that have considered whether a vehicle is a large motor vehicle include: R v Hillier, 2020 CanLII 85560 (NLPC) at paras 33-34 (Silverado truck); R v Sivakumaran, 2021 ONCJ 307 at paras 37-38 (Ford pickup truck); R v Caines, 2019 ONCJ 348, at para 26 (Dodge Ram pickup truck); R v Saxby, 2006 ABPC 201 at para 2, (Kenworth tractor); R v Dhadwal, 2012 ABPC 349 at paras 5, 25 (unspecified truck); R v Fairchild, 2017 ONCJ 658 at paras 1, 30 (Ford Escape SUV); R v Burger, 2015 ABPC 224 at paras 1, 68 (Semi-truck); R v Hallock, 2014 ABPC 232 at para 22 (Ford F150); and R v Bagri, 2016 BCCA 272 at paras 7, 17 (2003 Volvo tractor truck weighing 8575kg).

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