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Will Alberta Decriminalize Drunk Driving?

March 30, 2020
5 mins
Professional couple in grey vehicle

The Alberta government may be considering decriminalizing drunk driving in the province.

While no final decision has yet been made, it was reported the provincial government might decriminalize impaired driving and replace it with an administrative penalty system that imposes expensive fines. It’s an open question what this possible change in direction may have on auto insurance premiums.

In late 2017, the former NDP provincial government in Alberta began looking at changing the existing law after an Alberta Court of Appeal decision that ruled suspending a driver’s licence while awaiting the outcome of a trial was unconstitutional.

Alberta was considering how Manitoba and B.C. allow police officers discretion on whether to criminally charge drivers at roadside who blow over the legal limit or face administrative sanctions. The move was heavily criticized at the time. Now, under a United Conservative Party provincial government, the idea is being mulled over once more. It is unknown when the Alberta government will make its final decision. Interestingly, the move comes at a time when Alberta has a task force looking at options to reign in increasing auto rates.

While distracted driving stands as the greatest threat on Canadian roads today, the suggestion to change the province’s existing impaired driving laws is contentious for a few reasons:

  1. Impaired driving prosecutions take up a significant chunk of time in Alberta’s provincial court system, are costly, and court decisions are often appealed.
  2. Imposing administrative penalties at roadside are potentially financially devastating for low-income people who cannot afford to pay the fines levied against them and can lead to people losing their jobs and their homes.
  3. Relaxing criminal charges for impaired driving may have a reverse effect by increasing the possibility that more people will drive while intoxicated, in turn, ratcheting up the threat to overall road safety.

However, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Canada endorses the idea, stating Alberta should adopt B.C.’s impaired driving rules because it has cut B.C.’s drunk driving deaths by 50%. MADD says it doesn’t focus on punishing impaired drivers; it focuses on preventing impaired driving-related deaths.

Statistics Canada data from 2015 shows more than 72,000 drivers were nabbed by police for impaired driving – the lowest amount since 1986 when StatsCan started keeping score on impaired driving figures.

What Are the Penalties for Impaired Driving in Alberta?

Regardless of the amount of alcohol or drugs one consumes, driving impaired is a criminal offence in Alberta and across Canada. Currently, and according to Alberta’s Traffic Safety Act, the province imposes administrative and legal sanctions for drivers who have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) between 0.05% and 0.079%.

Alberta imposes four types of sanctions on drivers for alcohol- and drug-impaired driving offences, including:

  • A 90-day licence suspension, three-day vehicle seizure, and possibly criminal charges and federal penalties with a BAC of 0.08% or greater
  • A 30-day licence suspension and seven-day vehicle seizure for drivers in the province’s Graduated Driver’s Licensing Program with a BAC above zero per cent
  • An immediate three-day licence suspension and a three-day vehicle seizure for drivers with a BAC between 0.05% and 0.079% for a first offence
  • A 24-hour roadside suspension for drivers suspected of being impaired by alcohol or drugs, or because of a medical condition

How Would Administrative Penalties for Impaired Driving Work?

Under B.C.’s Motor Vehicle Act, impaired drivers with a BAC greater than 0.05% face a 90-day immediate roadside prohibition for a first offence. Their vehicles may also be impounded for three days, and there is a $200 administrative penalty. If a driver has a BAC higher than 0.08%, police can criminally charge the individual, and he/she would face a driving prohibition, up to a $1,000 fine, and the possibility of jail time.

How Does an Impaired Driving Conviction Affect Auto Insurance?

An impaired driving or driving under the influence (DUI) conviction will cause your auto insurance premium to skyrocket. The cost of auto insurance could easily reach as high as $7,000 per year for a driver with a DUI conviction.

Moreover, you may have difficulty finding an insurance company to provide you with car insurance. It is also possible you will be classified as a high-risk driver by insurance companies, which severely limits your options to find an affordable rate.

So, what’s your best bet to stay safe, remain DUI conviction-free, and keep your auto premium low? It’s simple: don’t drive impaired at any time for any reason.


The RATESDOTCA editorial team are experienced writers focused on sharing stories and bringing you the latest news in insurance and personal finance. Our goal is to provide Canadians with the information and resources they need to make better insurance and financial decisions.

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