Impaired driving: Frequently asked questions

How many drinks does it take to be impaired?

Impairment begins with the first drink. The effects of alcoholic drinks vary greatly because the rate of absorption and Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) attained vary from person to person due to factors such as weight, amount of fat tissue and stomach contents. Factors such as diet, fatigue and prescription drugs can change how alcohol affects an individual. Driving after using drugs, even prescription drugs, is just as dangerous as drinking and driving. Drug Recognition Experts can determine that you're under the influence of a drug and you can be charged with drug-impaired driving.

Is beer or wine less impairing than hard liquor?

Impairment is not determined by the type of drink, but rather by the amount of alcohol ingested over a specific period of time. There is a similar amount of alcohol in such standard drinks as a 12-ounce glass of beer, a 4-ounce glass of wine and 1.25 ounces of 80-proof liquor.

What happens if you refuse to provide a breath sample?

Refusing to comply with a demand for a breathalyzer test, physical sobriety test or to provide a bodily fluid sample will result in a Criminal Code charge under section 254 of the Criminal Code (Canada).

I was charged with impaired driving with a blood alcohol level between .05 and .08 in Alberta. Now what?

Drivers with a blood alcohol level between .05 and .08 will not be subject to Criminal Code prosecutions. A first offence will result in a three-day licence suspension and vehicle seizure. Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) drivers found with blood alcohol levels above zero will receive a 30-day licence suspension and seven-day vehicle seizure.

My blood alcohol level was more than .08. What happens now?

Drivers convicted of criminal charges for impaired driving with a blood alcohol level of more than .08 will have their Alberta driver's licences suspended for a minimum of one year. For more information:

How does a police officer know that a person is impaired by drugs?

When a police officer suspects that a person is impaired by alcohol or drugs, he or she may use a divided attention test battery known as the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests or SFSTs.

What is involved in a Standardized Field Sobriety Test?

The SFST battery consists of examining eyes, the Walk and Turn test and One Leg Stand test.

Can I appeal the decision?

You can appeal your license suspension and your vehicle seizure if longer than three days through the Alberta Transportation Safety Board. If your suspension is for blood alcohol over .08 then you are also facing criminal charges that you can challenge through a criminal trial.

Is court expensive?

The starting cost for defending yourself from a criminal impaired driving charge can be as high as $15,000.

How is a police officer qualified to know if a driver is impaired by drugs or alcohol?

The evaluation of a suspected drug impaired driver is conducted by an evaluator who is accredited by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, through the RCMP. The Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) uses a 12-step procedure in performing the evaluation.

  1. Breath test to rule out alcohol as the primary cause of impairment.
  2. Interview of the arresting officer.
  3. Preliminary examination (includes the first of three pulse checks).
  4. Eye examinations (Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, Vertical Gaze Nystagmus and the ability of the eyes to converge).
  5. Divided attention tests (SFSTs plus finger to nose and Modified Romberg balance test).
  6. Clinical indicators examinations (blood pressure, temperature, second pulse).
  7. Darkroom examination of pupil sizes (also includes examination of nasal and oral cavities).
  8. Muscle tone examinations, (third pulse check).
  9. Search for and examination of injection sites.
  10. Statements and interview of the suspect.
  11. Opinion of the DRE. Based on the totality of the evaluation, the DRE forms an opinion as to whether or not the subject is impaired. If the DRE determines that the subject is impaired, the DRE will indicate what category or categories of drugs may have contributed to the subject's impairment. The DRE bases these conclusions on his training and experience and the DRE Drug Symptomatology Matrix. While DREs use the drug matrix, they also rely heavily on their general training and experience.
  12. Toxicological sample (urine and oral fluid or blood). After the evaluation, the toxicological sample is sent to a forensic laboratory for analysis to confirm or refute the findings of the evaluator. The mere presence of a drug in the sample does not constitute sufficient evidence to charge a person as being impaired by a drug. The evaluation must show impairment, signs and symptoms consistent with one or more drug categories, and the evaluator's findings must be supported by the toxicology.
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