How much alcohol is too much? Impaired driving and your insurance in Ontario.

We live in a society where alcohol seems to greet us at every corner. It’s become a very big part of our daily lives, for some. Yet, there is also a growing trend to “know your limit” and drink in moderation. Just how much alcohol is too much?


Government definitions for impaired driving in Ontario

Some simply consider it a cultural norm and don’t give it a second thought, while others abstain completely because they dislike the effects, both in behaviour and on their health. Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) has some guidelines for drinking and The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction also has some similar parameters.
Alcohol consumption limits are primarily defined by gender:

Weekly Limit Daily Limit Single Occasion
Women 10 drinks 2 drinks 3 drinks
Men 15 drinks 3 drinks 4 drinks


Not sure how much alcohols is in beer or a shot? Use this four-point guide as a quick reference. A drink is defined as the following:

  1. 341 ml/12 oz of beer (5% alcohol content)
  2. 142 ml/5 oz of wine (10-12% alcohol content)
  3. 86 ml/3 oz of fortified wine (16-18% alcohol content)
  4. 43 ml/1.5 oz of liquor (40% alcohol)

While a daily limit is provided, CAMH also recommends you have a least a couple days each week without drinking, to avoid unhealthy, habitual drinking.


When any alcohol is too much

In addition to the above guidelines, it’s important you don’t drink if:

  1. you will be or are operating a vehicle, machinery or tools
  2. you are or will be taking medication or other drugs
  3. you will be or are doing dangerous physical work or activities
  4. you are living with mental or physical health problems
  5. you are or will be caring for someone dependent upon you
  6. you are pregnant or trying to conceive, or breastfeeding a baby
  7. you need to make any important decisions
  8. you are living with alcohol dependence or have inappropriate drinking habits



To keep your intake responsible, try to follow these simple rules:

  1. Follow all laws related to consuming, especially with respect to driving and alcohol consumption.
  2. Do not binge drink or consume an alcoholic beverage quickly.
  3. Never drink on an empty stomach.
  4. While the above guidelines are suggested, also take your age, weight and health status into account when deciding how many drinks to consume.
  5. Balance each drink with a non-alcoholic beverage.


Impaired driving penalties in Ontario

Canada’s new impaired driving laws let police officers demand a breathalyzer test without suspicion of impairment as of December 2018. Please plan for transportation responsibly!

Those convicted of impaired driving in Ontario may see their rates rise by as much as $8,000 annually, with certain insurance companies citing that impaired drivers are 30%-40% more likely to be repeat offenders in general. MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) corroborates that, too.

Fines for impaired driving in Ontario are strict, and some of them are immediate. Ontario’s impaired driving penalties for the first offence include a 3-day license suspension, which can’t be appealed, and a $250 fine. The fine will be enforced beginning in January 2019.

The second offence within 5 years of the first will include these penalties:

  1. A 7-day licence suspension (3 days for commercial drivers), which can’t be appealed
  2. A $350 fine (also beginning in January 2019)
  3. Mandatory attendance for an impaired driving education program

If the second offence occurs within 5 years of the first, then you can expect to face all three penalties. If the second offence occurred between 5 and 10 years after the first, then the education program will still be mandatory.

Fines for impaired driving in Ontario a third time will include:

  1. A 7-day licence suspension that can’t be appealed, again
  2. A $450 fine, beginning in January 2019
  3. Mandatory attendance in a treatment program
  4. Using an ignition interlock device for six months.
  5. Mandatory medical evaluation to assess the driver’s minimum ability to drive (sometimes after the fourth offence).

Impaired drivers will also need to pay $198 to reinstate their licences every time it’s suspended. A full conviction for impaired driving will include a separate set of fines and penalties entirely, and that doesn’t include the increased insurance premiums that will likely follow.



Impaired driving sentences in Ontario

In addition to roadside penalties, it’s possible to receive additional impaired driving sentences in Ontario through court conviction. The penalties follow the same pattern of first, second, and third-time offences, with the severity of the sentences climbing with each level.

First Offence:

  1. Licenses are suspended for 1 year.
  2. Attendance at an education or treatment program is mandatory.
  3. Use of an ignition interlock system becomes mandatory for at least 1 year.
  4. Undergo a mandatory medical evaluation to determine if the driver is fit to drive.

Second Offence Within 10 Years:

  1. Licenses are suspended for a minimum of 3 years.
  2. Attendance at an education or treatment program is mandatory (again).
  3. Use of an ignition interlock system becomes mandatory for at least 3 years instead of just 1.
  4. Undergo another mandatory medical evaluation to determine if the driver is fit to drive (again).

Third Offence Within 10 Years:

  1. Lifetime license suspension, with a chance to reduce it over time.
  2. Attendance at an education or treatment program is mandatory (again).
  3. Use of an ignition interlock system becomes mandatory for at least 6 years instead of 3.
  4. Undergo another mandatory medical evaluation to determine if the driver is fit to drive (again).

All of that can follow jail time and additional fines, no matter your age.


Limits for drinking and driving BAC (blood alcohol content)

First and foremost, Ontario’s BAC limit for young and new drivers is zero. That includes:

  1. Drivers aged 21 and under
  2. G1 Drivers
  3. G2 Drivers
  4. M1 Drivers
  5. M2 Drivers

That very same group of drivers are prohibited from partaking in any cannabis while driving as well, as of July 1, 2018. Violating those laws could result in driving convictions, which will likely increase an annual insurance premium.

Medical cannabis users aren’t subject to the zero-tolerance cannabis policy for commercial, young, and novice drivers if a police officer still deems you fit to drive. That’s up to the officer’s discretion, making it the driver’s responsibility to remain unimpaired even as a medical user.

Fully licensed drivers have an absolute blood alcohol limit of 0.08%, or 80 milligrams of alcohol for every 100 millilitres of blood. Driving over that limit is a criminal offence, but that’s not the only thing to worry about. Officers can still penalize you for driving with a blood alcohol level between 0.05% and 0.08%. This is called the “warm range.”



Demerit points for impaired driving in Ontario

Ontario doesn’t actually assign demerit points for impaired driving, strictly speaking, because it’s considered much more severe than racing or driving recklessly.

However, those convicted of impaired driving will face license suspensions, impounded vehicles, and other penalties far bigger than the 30-day licence suspension that comes with accumulating too many demerit points.

It’s worth noting that while demerit points don’t affect your insurance rate directly, driving convictions certainly do—and many demerit points correspond to specific convictions that will affect your insurance rate.

How long does impaired driving stay on record?


Impaired driving is an offence under Ontario’s criminal code, which never disappears (it goes on a permanent criminal record). Fines and penalties applied by an officer after the first impaired driving offence don’t usually count as a second or third offence if it’s been more than five years since the first, but certain penalties can be applied within a 10-year window.

Driving convictions never disappear from a criminal record, but insurance companies may be willing to lower your rates for sustaining a good driving record.


Statistics on impaired driving

We’ve collected some impaired driving statistics in Ontario and Canada and supplied credible sources for everything. If someone you know thinks they can get by driving impaired, please show this list to them immediately.

  1. About one-third of people convicted with impaired driving repeat the offence. (MADD)
  2. Being convicted with impaired driving can raise annual auto insurance rates by $8,000. (Globe and Mail)
  3. The body takes a bare minimum of six hours to detox from a BAC of 0.08%, but can take longer. (RCMP and Christine Van Tuyl)
  4. It also takes the average person about six hours to shake off the effects of cannabis. (Canadian Society of Forensic Science)
  5. 1 in 20 drivers report having driven while impaired, but it’s under-reported. (Stats Canada and the Senate of Canada)
  6. The 25-34 age range is most likely to drive impaired, followed by those aged 18-24, and then 45-54 (Stats Canada and the Senate of Canada)
  7. Impaired driving in Canada dropped by 65% between 1986 and 205. (RCMP)
  8. Although impaired driving is under-reported in general, Ontario had some of the lowest rates in the country as of 2015. (Stats Canada)
  9. More than one-third of teens mistakenly believe they drive better under the influence of cannabis. (MADD)



How to report impaired driving in Ontario

There are a number of initiatives to assist law enforcement in catching impaired drivers, and all of them involve calling 911.

It’s strongly encouraged to report a vehicle that you suspect contains an impaired driver by these groups and initiatives:

  1. Campaign 911, by Mothers Against Drunk Driving
  2. Ontario RAID
  3. Ontario Provincial Police

The OPP also have a quick guide to tell you when it’s ideal to report the crime online and when it’s prudent to call 911 right away. We recommend giving it a quick read and bookmarking the page in your browser in case you ever need to use it.

If you find yourself craving alcohol during work hours or in situations where it isn’t a social component, you may want to consider taking a break. Same goes if you find yourself forgetting about things you do or say while under the influence, or if you are acting or speaking inappropriately, aggressively, abusively or feeling depressed or anxious while drinking.

Seriously, what else can you do in 3 minutes?

Boil half an egg?

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