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Ontario plans to toughen penalties for impaired drivers

Ontario plans to bring in legislation that would impose tough new penalties on impaired drivers, the provincial government says.

Those convicted of impaired driving causing death to face lifetime licence suspension, province says

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In a news release on Wednesday, the Ontario government said it's proposing a lifetime licence suspension on motorists convicted of impaired driving causing death. (Shutterstock)

Ontario plans to bring in legislation that would impose tough new penalties on impaired drivers, the provincial government says.

In a news release on Wednesday, the Ontario government said one of the penalties in the proposed legislation would be a lifetime licence suspension on motorists convicted of impaired driving causing death.

Ontario Transportation Minister Prabmeet Sarkaria said in the release that the government wants to curb impaired driving by strengthening the sanctions against those who drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs. One in three road deaths involves impaired driving in Ontario, according to the province.

"Everyone deserves to return home to their loved ones safely at the end of the day," Sarkaria said.

"Too many families in Ontario have had their lives torn apart by the careless and shameful actions of impaired drivers."

Under the legislation, the government would require anyone convicted of impaired driving to install an ignition interlock device in their vehicle and to be forced to take remedial education and treatment for first and second-time alcohol and drug-related offences, respectively.

WATCH | Transportation minister talks new penalties: 

'Consequences will be real,' Ontario minister says of new penalties for impaired drivers

8 days ago
Duration 1:38
Ontario Transportation Minister Prabmeet Sarkaria outlined plans Wednesday to bring in legislation that would impose tough new penalties on impaired drivers. Plans include installing an ignition interlock device in offenders' vehicles and mandatory remedial education and treatment for first and second time alcohol and drug-related offences, respectively.

An ignition interlock device is an alcohol breath screening device in a vehicle that prevents its engine from starting if alcohol is detected in the driver's system.

The proposed legislation would similarly increase immediate roadside licence suspensions for first and second-time alcohol and drug-related offences, from three and seven days to seven and 14 days, respectively. It would also clarify the authority of police to stop vehicles and administer sobriety tests for drivers on or off the highway.

The Ontario Provincial Police has said it laid more than 10,000 impaired driving charges last year. In a social media post last December, OPP Sgt. Kerry Schmidt said 397 people died in road crashes up until that point last year, and 49 of them died as a result of an alcohol or drug-related crash.

Schmidt said the number of impaired driving charges being laid is increasing year over year.

Earlier this month, the OPP announced all drivers in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area pulled over by highway safety officers will be asked to provide a breath sample — no matter what they're stopped for.

Ontario Provincial Police at the scene of a fatal crash in Caledon on Dec. 19, 2023.
Ontario Provincial Police are pictured at the scene of a fatal crash in Caledon on Dec. 19, 2023. (Susan Goodspeed/CBC)

Adam Weisberg, managing partner at Weisberg Law Criminal Lawyers LLP, said he doesn't believe harsher penalties will work to deter impaired driving, because motorists who get behind the wheel under the influence of alcohol or drugs aren't "thinking straight.

"If you really wanted to stop impaired driving and lower the burden on the court system and make it harder for defence lawyers to earn a living on impaired driving charges, you'd just have interlock in every car," he told CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Wednesday.

Weisberg said such an approach could be mandated by law, or by offering significant insurance discounts for drivers who voluntarily install an interlock device in their vehicle.

"But for some reason there doesn't seem to be an appetite for that simple solution. The solution the government seems to be going for is increasing penalties, which is largely ineffective, especially in impaired driving. Because most people who drive impaired are good people who are impaired and make a stupid decision because alcohol or drugs impaired their ability to make a good decision," he said.

Too many still driving impaired, MADD Canada says

Steve Sullivan, CEO of MADD Canada, said in the release he is pleased by the proposed new measures.

"Despite progress, too many people are still making the choice to drive impaired, and we need to ensure sanctions hold drivers accountable while focusing on reducing recidivism," Sullivan said.

The government said the percentage of drivers killed while under the influence of cannabis more than doubled between 2012 and 2020, and it plans to crack down on cannabis-impaired driving as well.

Those plans include more tools and training for police officers to enable them to detect drug-impaired driving. And the province plans to launch a campaign across the province to point out the dangers of drug-impaired driving, with a focus on cannabis and young drivers.

The announcement comes one day after the government said it intends to suspend driving licences of convicted auto thieves. If passed, anyone convicted of motor vehicle theft under the Criminal Code could face a 10-year licence suspension for a first offence, a 15-year licence suspension for a second offence and a lifetime licence suspension for a third offence.

With files from Metro Morning