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New Drinking and Driving Legislation for Drivers Under 21

March 4, 2011
As of August 1st, 2010 the Ontario government implemented changes to the impaired driving laws for drivers 21 years of age or less. These changes will have a significant impact on young drivers and particularly high school and university students. MADD Canada recently rated Ontario’s drinking and driving regulations as the best in Canada, followed closely by Manitoba, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.

Students and their parents should be aware of the new regulations and the consequences of ignoring them. It pays for young drivers to know their options, including taking transit, calling a cab, or having a designated driver. These simple precautions can reduce accidents, save lives and prevent the emotional and financial consequences of accidents caused by impaired driving.

Impaired driving can hit you in the pocket book as well. A conviction negatively affects your auto insurance rates for six years, and may make it difficult to get anything other than Facility Association insurance, which is typically significantly more expensive than any regular car insurance provider. Drivers with a blood alcohol content measured at over 0.08%, receive a 90 day administration suspension of their license even if they are not convicted. This suspension stays on your driving record for 3 years and affects your car insurance premiums for six years.

Due to changes made to the Road Safety Act of 2009 and the Safer Roads for a Safer Ontario Act of 2007, starting August 1st, drivers age 21 or under must maintain a blood alcohol level of zero at all times when they are behind the wheel. Previously, only drivers still in the graduated licensing program were required to maintain a zero blood alcohol level. The Ontario government has now extended that restriction to all drivers 21 years of age or younger.

Drivers who fail to abide by these restrictions face stiff penalties including:

  •     An immediate 24 hour driving suspension,
  •     A potential 30 day driving suspension
  •     A fine of up to $500.

    In addition, drivers in the graduated licensing program now face stiffer penalties for violating the conditions of their license or committing an offence which carries 4 or more demerit points. Drivers convicted of these offences face:

  •     A 30 day suspension for first time offenders.
  •     A 90 day suspension for a second offence.
  •     A possible cancellation of their driver’s license for subsequent infractions.  

    Ignition Interlock Regulations Introduced

    Another change to the regulations allows drivers who are convicted of an impaired driving offence to become eligible for a reduced suspension if they agree to have an ignition interlock device installed on their vehicle. 

    An ignition interlock device is an attachment similar to a breathalyser that is mounted on the dashboard of a vehicle. It requires the driver to breathe into the device which then analyzes the individual’s blood alcohol content. The ignition interlock device prevents the car from starting if the blood alcohol reading is higher than a preset level (usually0.2 to 0.4%). 

    The device also requires breath samples to be taken at random intervals while the car is in operation, to ensure that the driver has not asked someone else provide a breath sample to start the car and then driven off in the vehicle. If the breath sample is not provided within a brief window of time, the device makes note of the incident, warns the driver to stop, and sounds an alarm until the ignition is turned off or the breath sample is given. 

    Making the roads safer

    The government’s aim is to reduce the number of accidents involving young drivers. In Ontario, the peak ages for alcohol related accidents are 19-21, exactly the ages targeted by the new legislation.  According to the latest available statistics, 235 drivers under the age of 21 have been killed by alcohol related collisions in the past 10 years.

    It is well known the every drink impairs a driver’s judgement and reaction time. The hope of the legislation is that requiring young drivers to be completely alcohol free will reduce the number of accidents and collisions among this age group and save lives in the process. 

    Support for the New Legislation

    The legislation has received widespread support among safe driving advocates. Ralph Palumbo, the Insurance Bureau of Canada’s Vice President for Ontario says,

    "The Insurance Bureau of Canada applauds the government for implementing these initiatives, which aim to protect young drivers and further reduce drinking and driving. Ontario’s auto insurers support any program that improves the safety of our roads and saves lives."

    Margaret Miller, the National President of MADD Canada also supports the new ignition interlock regulations.

    "MADD Canada has long supported the use of alcohol ignition interlocks as a tool to stop impaired driving. Ontario’s new interlock sanctions put an emphasis on rehabilitation for first- time offenders, and that is a valuable opportunity to reach these drivers early and change their behavior so that they do not re-offend."

    The new legislation has received some criticism from those who feel that it unfairly targets younger drivers. However, statistics support the Ontario government’s position.

    According to the Injury Prevention Journal  young drivers are statistically more likely to die in a car accident if they have blood alcohol levels as low as 0.02%, considerably lower than the death rate for similar blood alcohol levels in older drivers.

    The timing of the new legislation is particularly important as high school and university campuses get set for a new year of school. University students in particular are more likely to consume a significant amount of alcohol in their new surroundings and the legislation aims to limit potential accidents among this group.

    The idea of the Ontario government’s legislation is to encourage responsibility among young drivers. The hope is that young drivers will be more aware of the risks of driving under the influence and will exercise the good judgment to plan ahead and take a cab, use public transit, stay at a friend’s house or designate a driver when using alcohol. 

    • Anonymous

      I think we should go back to the prohabition area. If I can’t even be trusted with 1 beer. Oh and the police are a detriment to society.that is all.