Driving with a Blood Alcohol Level in the 'Warn Range' is proven to increase the Risk of Car Accidents

Posted by Injury Lawyers of Ontario on January 12, 2016


Setting the maximum blood alcohol concentration (BAC) for drivers to .05 is an international trend.

Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is the largest single cause of injury and death in Canada.  On average each year, more than 1,200 Canadians die in car accidents resulting from impaired driving and more than 71,500 are injured, according to the Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.  These statistics represent thousands of Canadian families whose lives were permanently changed when they lost a loved one or have a family member who was seriously or catastrophically injured as the result of an impaired driver.


Studies have shown that lowering sanctions for drinking and driving reduces the number of fatalities resulting from this negligent behaviour.  Setting the maximum blood alcohol concentration to .05 is an international trend, in response to authoritative studies on the effects of alcohol on driving ability and the historic loss of life caused by drinking and driving.

What are the Penalties if you are caught with a blood alcohol concentration between .05 and .08?

Most Ontario drivers know that driving while impaired or with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or more (which is 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood) will result in charges under Canada’s Criminal Code, in addition to several harsh penalties.  However, there are also sanctions under Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act if you register with a BAC between .05 and .08, which is known as the ‘warn range’ in Ontario.   When caught the first time, you will immediately have your driver’s licence suspended for 3 days. If you are found driving with a BAC in the ‘warn range’ more than once within 5 years, your licence will be suspended for 7 or 30 days (for the second and third conviction, respectively) and you will be required to attend a costly remedial alcohol-treatment program before you can drive again.  A third conviction also means you must have an ignition interlock device installed in your car for 6 months.

Novice/probationary drivers (holding a level 1 or level 2 graduated licence) and young drivers who are 21 years or under are not allowed to have any alcohol in their systems at all (i.e. a BAC of zero) when driving.  Novice and young drivers found to have a BAC more than zero will receive an immediate 24 hour roadside licence suspension, and if convicted, they face a 30 day suspension and $500 fine.  If their BAC is in the ‘warn range’ or over .08, novice and young drivers face similar penalties and in the latter case, charges under the Criminal Code, as other (experienced) drivers.

Why was the ‘allowable’ BAC lowered via provincial legislation, from .08 to .05?

Most nations comparable to Canada already have a maximum BAC of .05, including Australia, Germany, France and Italy.  There has been some criticism of Canada’s approach which has maintained a BAC limit of .08 in our Criminal Code since this maximum was introduced in 1969. Critics argue that a lowered BAC limit would reduce fatalities and injuries associated with drinking and driving.  However, Canada has allotted to allow the provinces to administer short-term suspensions for lower BAC’s rather than modifying the Criminal Code, presumably with the idea that this would place less pressure on our legal system than implementing criminal charges for anyone driving with a BAC over .05. The decision to maintain the maximum BAC at .08 in the Criminal Code also means fewer tasks for police officers who must take potential offenders to a police station for a Breathalyzer and complete required forms, for drinking and driving charges that may result in a criminal conviction.

Canada’s approach to drinking and driving appears to be unique, with regards to promptly suspending a driver’s licence for drivers registering a BAC that is actually lower than the criminal limit.  However, according to a Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse report on administrative sanctions for drivers with low BAC, there is evidence that penalties such as a 3 to 7 day licence suspension are an effective and efficient way of improving road safety by immediately removing high-risk drivers from the roads. Various studies in Canada have shown that the sanctions for a .05 to .08 BAC have resulted in reduced alcohol-related fatalities, fewer repeat offenders and a reduction in night-time fatalities.

Research on driver behaviour has demonstrated that driver impairment can begin as low as .02 BAC, although the risk varies depending on age, gender and other criteria.  The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that with a BAC between .02 and .05, common symptoms that impact driving ability, but are not necessarily apparent to the person who has been drinking, are: a reduced ability to multi-task and a decline in visual functions such as tracking a moving target.  With a BAC of .05 to .08, persons commonly demonstrate reduced coordination, compromised ability to track moving objects, more difficulty steering and a poorer response to emergency driving situations.  Some studies show that a BAC of .05 is associated with a 6 to 17 times increase in the likelihood of a car accident.

In January 2016, a tragic car accident claimed the lives of four family members including two children, two and five years old.  The family’s car was hit by a Jeep Wrangler when the driver attempted to cross Highway 11 near Saskatoon.  The 49 year old female driver of the Jeep faces three charges of impaired operation of a motor vehicle causing death.  This recent accident reminds many Ontario residents of a devastating September 2015 collision that occurred in Vaughan when an alleged drunk driver was responsible for the death of three children and their grandfather.

When the Government of Ontario implemented legislation in 2009 to impose sanctions for a  BAC of .05 to .08, there were some complaints and criticisms posted on social media sites that this threshold was harsh and unnecessary, and even some references to the ‘good old days’ when people could drive themselves home from a party after having ‘a few drinks’. However, the reality is that the percentage of alcohol-related deaths from car accidents has significantly declined since 2009, which follows a steady decline in the past few decades, largely as a result of public education on this issue, the R.I.D.E program and increased enforcement of drinking and driving infractions in Ontario.  There are many safe alternatives available to people who choose to drink at social gatherings and bars, and no good reason to put the lives of other road users at risk by driving under the influence.

Injured persons and their loved ones are eligible to seek damages for injuries and losses from the party who was negligent in causing their injuries.  The idea behind compensatory damages is to allow an injured person to function and live, as much as possible, as they did before they were injured.  Individuals who were seriously injured in an accident may be temporarily unable to work or in some cases, permanently; they may require help with home maintenance and household chores; and they often incur medical and rehabilitation expenses.  These are some of the financial costs for which injured persons may be eligible.  In many cases of serious injury, particularly catastrophic injury, accident victims may also seek compensation for pain and suffering, and family members may be owed benefits under the Family Law Act.

The Injury Lawyers of Ontario (ILO) represent an association of highly respected and experienced lawyers specializing in personal injury civil suits and accident insurance claims.  If you or a loved one would like to discuss your case or learn about potential next steps in making a claim for injury compensation, call an ILO office to arrange a no-obligation consultation. 

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