Ontario drivers high on drugs to lose their licences temporarily as new rules take effect

Ontario drivers caught high on drugs can now temporarily lose their driver's license on the spot, just like they would if they were caught drinking and driving.

Man who lost son in collision involving drugs 15 years ago calls move a 'big step forward'

Starting Sunday, if an Ontario driver fails a road-side sobriety test due to drugs, they will lose their license for three days — the same penalty they would receive if they were caught drunk. (ambrozinio/Shutterstock)

Ontario drivers caught high on drugs can now temporarily lose their driver's licence on the spot, just like they would if they were caught drinking and driving. 

If a driver fails a road-side sobriety test due to drugs, they will lose their licence for three days — the same penalty they would receive if they were caught drunk. The driver also has to pay a $180 licence reinstatement fee to the province. 

"It's great because we now have more tools for us to do our job," said Sgt. Kerry Schmidt, spokesperson for the Ontario Provincial Police, Highway Safety Division.

The new rules took effect Sunday. 

"Hopefully it's a deterrent for these drivers to understand that you can't just have a joint or have some sort of drug in your body thinking that getting a little buzz isn't going to cause any problems." 

Sobriety tests include eye exams, walking heel-to-toe in a straight line or standing on one foot during a mental challenge. 

Penalties worse for repeat-offenders

After a failed sobriety test, drivers will now be sent to the police station for a battery of physiological tests, including blood pressure and body temperature, by an officer dubbed a drug recognition expert. 

If a driver fails that, their licence will be suspended for 90-days and their vehicle will be impounded for seven days. 

Neither the OPP nor Toronto police could provide numbers on how many people had been impacted by the new legislation on the first day. 

"Whether it's drugs or alcohol, impaired driving is never okay," Ontario Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca said in a statement. "Not only do you face tough penalties, but you risk your life and endanger everyone around you. It's not worth the risk. If you're not sober, don't get behind the wheel."

The penalties get worse for repeat offenders who fail roadside sobriety tests because they're deemed to be stoned: 

  • 1st offence: three-day licence suspension 
  • 2nd offence: seven-day licence suspension 
  • 3rd offence: 30-day licence suspension 

'Going home with licence suspension'

But while the roadside tests and the drug recognition experts may not be new, the punishment is, Schmidt says.  That's because when a driver failed a roadside test before, there wasn't enough evidence for the drug recognition expert to determine the driver was impaired by a drug. 

"Now they will be going home with a licence suspension on their record," Schmidt said of drivers who fail the roadside test but pass further testing. 

Provincial police laid 151 drug-impaired charges by the end of August 2016, up from 131 in the same period last year. The spike is even more pronounced in Toronto. 

Toronto police dealt with 21 drug impaired drivers in the first part of 2015, but 57 drug impaired drivers over the same period in 2016, said Const. Clint Stibbe. 

Gregg Thomson with Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada applauds the new legislation. 

Marijauna legalization looms

He lost his son 15 years ago in a collision that involved drugs and said the new legislation is a long time coming. 

"Fully behind them, they are excellent," said Thomson. "Right now, when it comes to impaired driving by drugs, the police have very little teeth, specifically in Ontario, they have very little enforcement capability right now. [This is a] big step forward." 

Gregg Thomson's son Stan was killed in a 1999 car crash with four other youths. The driver of the vehicle was under the influence of pot. (CBC News)

Thomson said the legislation is more pressing than ever with the impending legalization of marijuana. 

The OPP said it's not just looking for people under the influence of marijuana but any drug, both prescribed and illicit drugs.  

According to the Office of the Chief Coroner, 39 per cent of drivers killed on Ontario's roads in 2013 had either drugs or a combination of drugs and alcohol in their system.

The new penalties enforced Sunday are part of the Making Ontario's Roads Safer Act introduced last year. In addition to these measures, impaired driving can lead to criminal charges which could ultimately result in a loss of licence, additional fines and jail time of up to five years.