Andy and Sam, both grade twelve students, are looking forward to an exciting weekend. Andy’s parents are out of town and have agreed to let him use their car while they’re away. Andy has just passed his G2 driving test and is eager to cruise around town with his friends.
One of Andy and Sam’s friends is having a huge party this weekend. Because the house party is in another neighborhood about thirty minutes away from where Andy and Sam live, Andy happily offers to drive to the party. On the way, Sam shows Andy the six-pack of beer he snuck out of his house. Andy refuses, saying he’s not going to drink at the party because he’ll be driving later.
A couple hours later, Andy feels a bit out of place, as everyone else at the party is drinking. He decides to have one beer, thinking that he will still be able to drive safely if he only has one. However, after having the first beer, Andy has three more, thinking that he might as well enjoy himself, and anyway, he feels fine.
As the party winds down, Sam and Andy decide to leave. Sam notices that Andy doesn’t look too steady, and stumbles a bit on the way to the car. When he learns that Andy has had four beers, he tells him that they should probably call a taxi or stay at their friend’s house, because he is too intoxicated to drive. Andy brushes him off, and tells him that he’s fine to drive home. Although Sam has a G2 licence, he knows that he has also had too much to drink to drive.
Drinking and driving is a deadly combination and a serious issue. It can lead to injury and death to other drivers on the road as well as other passengers in the car. In fact, drinking and driving accounts for 25% of deaths in Ontario. For this reason, the legal ramifications are quite serious. There can be charges laid against the driver, fines and licence suspensions, jail time and a vehicle being impounded.
In Ontario, the police have the power to
(a) stop drivers at random to determine whether to test for alcohol (via a breath test)
(b) suspend your driver’s licence for novice drivers and all young drives below the age of 21, who at roadside for recording have over a zero blood alcohol concentration (BAC) or
(c) suspend driver’s licence at roadside for recording 0.05 or over on a breath test and BAC for all other categories of drivers.
This means that if you are under 21 years old, that regardless of which kind of licence you have (G, G1, G2), if you are caught with any alcohol in your blood, you will receive an immediate 24-hour roadside driver licence suspension. You will likely then be charged with impaired driving. If you are convicted of the charge, you can be fined between $60 and $500, and your licence can be suspended for 30 days. If you are a young driver with only a G1 or G2 licence, you can face even stricter consequences, including being returned to the start of the Graduated Licencing System.
As Andy is only 16 years old and has just gotten his G2 license, he is considered a novice driver. This means that if he is caught drinking, he will be subject to any of the above. He may lose his G2 licence (which allows him to drive her friends unaccompanied by an adult) and be returned to the start of the licensing process.
Criminal Code of Canada
Andy can also face more serious consequences. Higher BACs (between 0.05-0.08, and above 0.08) lead to even more severe consequences. Impaired driving, which means driving while your ability is affected by alcohol or drugs, is a crime under the Criminal Code of Canada under Section 253(1)(a). Driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 (800mg of alcohol/100 mL of blood) or more is also a crime under Section 253(1)(b). Interestingly, the vehicle does not even have to be moving. The driver can even be charged if impaired behind the wheel, even if he/she has not started to drive and the keys are not in the ignition.
Youth Criminal Justice Act
Since Andy is a youth (between the ages of 12-17), the Youth Criminal Justice Act will apply to him, and not the Criminal Code offences. As a result, it is not possible to predict as clearly what sentence he could get if found guilty. However, this also changes the way the police officer must interact with Johnny. For example, s. 146 of the YCJA imposes a different standard for obtaining evidence, not binding youth to certain written and/or oral statements that were obtained when the youth didn’t have the opportunity to speak with a parent and/or a lawyer. Also, police must speak to youth using words that the youth is able to understand.
Every injury and death caused by impaired driving is entirely preventable. There are other options and if you are ever in the same situation as Andy and Sam do not forget: Call a taxi, call a friend or a parent, walk home if you or carpool with others who haven’t been drinking. Don’t ever let your friends drive drunk. Take their keys, have them stay the night, or do whatever else is necessary – but don’t let them drink and drive!
This blog scenario was written by Rachel Kattapuram, a first year law student at the University of Toronto and a volunteer on the JFCY’s PLE Team. The legal content was written by Lauren Grossman, a first year law student at the University of Toronto who is volunteering at JFCY as the PLE team leader through her law school’s Pro Bono Students Canada program. All legal content was reviewed by a JFCY lawyer.