DUIs: New Laws for a New Era

The introduction of legalized cannabis in October 2018 was accompanied by a great deal of publicity, debate and no shortage of controversy. Less publicized but equally as important, were the changes made to the impaired driving laws in December 2018, addressing the use of both alcohol and cannabis when behind the wheel of a vehicle. Notably, these changes included the formation of a brand new category of impairment for cannabis, making it an offence to have 2 to 5 Nano grams (ng) of THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol – the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis) per 1 milliliter (ml) of blood. The transgression becomes even more serious when the driver has more than 5 ng of THC per 1 ml of blood in the bloodstream while driving.

And while the prohibited blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 80 milligrams (mg) per 100 ml (the renowned .08) remains unchanged, the prohibited levels of both substances falls to 2.5 ng of cannabis per 1 ml and 50 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood when combined. Likewise, any detectable amount of harder drugs such as LSD, cocaine or heroin while driving is also unlawful and strictly prohibited.

Additionally, police can now request an alcohol or drug test anytime they pull a driver over. Refusal to provide a breath sample is now a criminal offence and carries a $2,000 fine for first offenders and harsher penalties, including mandatory imprisonment, for repeat offenders.

Another noteworthy change allows charges to be laid against an offender within a 2-hour window of driving with detected and prohibited blood alcohol and THC levels. For lawmakers, the goal is to prevent a “one for the road” situation where alcohol and cannabis may not be fully metabolized in the system while driving, but impairment is still possible. Something to keep in mind since actual impairment can start below the legal .08 level and drivers can still be penalized provincially for sub-.08 blood alcohol concentrations.

These laws, both old and new, exist for a good reason since impaired driving is the leading criminal cause of death and injury in Canada. In fact, there were more than 69,000 impaired driving incidents reported in 2017. About 3,500 of those incidents were directly related to drug-impaired driving. As an insurance industry professional, you should already know how substance abuse and impaired driving affect your business. It should therefore come as no surprise to you that impaired driving has its’ own section in every underwriting manual and applicants with impaired driving convictions are often on the receiving end of underwriting scorn (think of a rating or a decline). With an increasing amount of Canadians partaking in the legalization of cannabis and roads that are wide open for discovery, make sure that you are familiar with the new impairment laws and the risks involved for your clients!

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