Ontario cracking down on pot-impaired drivers with tough new penalties

Ontario plans to introduce new penalties for drug-impaired drivers ahead of the legalization of recreational marijuana next July.

Zero tolerance for young, novice drivers, or commercial drivers with drugs or alcohol in their system

Ontario's Liberal government announced tougher penalties for drug-impaired drivers. (Shutterstock)

As the countdown to the legalization of recreational pot in Canada next July looms closer, Ontario is beefing-up penalties against drivers caught under the influence.

Premier Kathleen Wynne announced the introduction of new legislation on Monday. It includes zero tolerance for anyone 21 years old and under, novice drivers and commercial drivers. 

Premier Kathleen Wynne announced new laws against drug-impaired driving on Sept. 18, 2017. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

"This is a new frontier for us here in Ontario, and a shift for all of us across the country," said Wynne.

"We need more answers from the federal government...but that doesn't mean that we can sit back and wait."

A 'good chance you're going to get caught'

All other drivers will have to stay under a limit which has yet to be determined, said Steven Del Duca, Ontario's minister of transportation.

Del Duca said a saliva drug screening device, which will be approved in the coming months, will test the driver's degree of intoxication. 

The Alere DDS®2 Mobile Test System is part of the federal government's pilot project to find the best way to test the saliva of drug-impaired drivers. (CBC)

Andrew Murie, the chief executive officer for MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) Canada said that one of the reasons people drive impaired is because they don't think they're going to get caught. Murie says the saliva testing kit, once approved, will be able to be used on the roadside.

"We need to get that message out there to everyone that if you choose to use drugs and get behind the wheel there's a good chance you're going to get caught, tested and the appropriate penalties [will] apply," Murie said.

Andrew Murie is the chief executive office of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) Canada. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

According to an Ontario press release, each occurrence will include a fine and a suspension of the driver's licence.

The first time young and novice drivers are caught (those with a G1, G2, M1, or M2 licence), they will face a three-day licence suspension and a $250 fine. The second offence will slap a seven-day suspension with a $350 fine on the driver. All occurrences after that are subject to a 30-day suspension and a $450 fine.

Commercial drivers will see similar monetary fines, but only three-day suspensions for each offence. 

The news comes after Ontario's Liberal government announced its plan to distribute and sell recreational cannabis.

Wynne also announced the province will host a fall summit with policing agencies, public health groups and other stakeholders to discuss Ontario's marijuana legalization framework.

The Ontario government plans to sell marijuana in as many as 150 dedicated stores run by the province's liquor control board and make 19 the legal age to buy the drug.

With files from The Canadian Press