Quebec law is strict on driving after drinking or using drugs. Here we explain the difference between
- driving while impaired and
- driving with a blood-alcohol level over the legal limit.
We also explain that you can be arrested for
- just sitting in your car while drunk, even if you’re not driving, or
- refusing to give a breath sample to a police officer.
Driving After Drinking or Using Drugs
There are two separate, serious crimes related to driving after drinking or using drugs. These crimes also apply to driving a motorcycle or operating a train, boat or plane.
1. Driving While Over the Legal Limit
It’s a crime to drive with a blood-alcohol level over .08. This means having more than 80 mg of alcohol in 100 ml of blood.
You can be accused of this crime as soon as your blood-alcohol is over .08 even if you don’t show any sign of being drunk or unfit to drive.
2. Driving While Impaired by Alcohol or Drugs
The crime of impaired driving is driving when your ability to drive is decreased because of alcohol, drugs (including medication) or both. This crime deals with your ability to drive, not the amount of alcohol in your blood.
So, you might be unfit to drive even with a blood-alcohol level of only .05. Fatigue or stress, combined with alcohol or drugs, might decrease your ability to drive so much that driving becomes a crime.
Criminal Charges and Serious Consequences
You can be accused of both crimes at the same time. It’s up to a judge to decide which crime you’re guilty of.
Being arrested for these crimes has serious consequences, such as losing your driver’s licence and being sent to prison.
Sobering Up in a Parked Car
You can be accused of these two crimes even if you’re not driving. It doesn’t matter whether your car is parked or you are driving. If you’re impaired or have a blood-alcohol level over the legal limit, just having the care or control of a car is a crime.
Here are some things a judge can consider when deciding whether you have the care or control of a car:
- Did you have the keys?
- Could you have easily gotten the keys?
- Did you turn on the radio or the heat?
- Was your seat belt fastened?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, the judge might decide that you had real control of the car. This is a crime, even if you just wanted to sleep in the car.
The law says that sitting in the driver’s seat is proof of care or control. To defend yourself, you have to prove
- you had no intention of starting the car and
- your behaviour didn’t put another person or property at risk.
Refusing to Give a Breath Sample
Refusing to do these things without a good excuse is also a crime:
- breathe through an approved screening device or do the more accurate breath sample test
- do a physical coordination test
- give a blood sample
- go with a police officer to have a breath or blood sample taken
If you are found guilty of this crime, you can receive the same fine or prison sentence as if you are found guilty of impaired driving or driving over the legal limit. Also, your driver’s licence can be suspended for a longer period.
To learn more about your rights and the tests police officers can ask you to do, read our article on this topic.
The law on the legal blood-alcohol limit is stricter for some drivers.
For example, the legal limit is .05 for drivers of some heavy vehicles.
New drivers and drivers under 22 are not allowed to drive after taking any amount of alcohol (zero tolerance). To learn more about what can happen to new or young drivers who drink and drive, read our article on this topic.
Zero tolerance also applies to bus drivers, minibus drivers and taxi drivers.
This article explains in a general way the law that applies in Quebec. This article is not a legal opinion or legal advice. To find out the specific rules for your situation, consult a lawyer or notary.