April 15, 2024

In 2022, police issued 1,968 short-term license suspensions to Saskatchewan drivers for exceeding provincial limits for alcohol and drugs.

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SGI and police services across Saskatchewan want to be perfectly clear: People don’t have be seriously inebriated to face serious consequences for driving under the influence of booze or drugs like cannabis or cocaine.

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Even a modest amount of imbibing could result in significant penalties.

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To mark the March Traffic Safety Spotlight, the government-owned insurance company wants to set the record straight about impaired driving. SGI spokesperson Tyler McMurchy said there is a “real legal limit” that differs from the .08 blood alcohol content (BAC) limit in the criminal code. Drivers need to know that limit.

“When people think of the legal limit when it comes to impaired driving, they think of .08,” McMurchy said. “That’s the criminal code limit. But the real legal limit in Saskatchewan is lower than that.”

The oral fluid drug testing swab police use at the roadside to detect drugs in impaired drivers' systems.  Photo taken in Saskatoon on March 1, 2023.
The oral fluid drug testing swab police use at the roadside to detect drugs in impaired drivers’ systems. Photo taken in Saskatoon on March 1, 2023. Photo by Michelle Berg /Michelle Berg

Any experienced driver found to have a BAC between .04 and .08 can expect their life to take a turn for the unpleasant. Anyone who is not a novice driver and is over the age of 21 is considered an experienced driver.

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For new drivers or those 21 years of age or younger, the BAC limit is zero.

“We want people to understand that even if you don’t get charged criminally, there are consequences that can result from driving and breaking the real legal limit,” McMurchy said.

Anyone pulled over by police and found to have a BAC that falls with the .04 to .08 range is subject to an immediate roadside license suspension of three days for an experienced driver and 60 days for a new driver.

The driver’s vehicle is impounded for a minimum of three days, with towing and impound fines of approximately $400 to be paid by the owner. The driver is required by law to attend a weekend-long Driving Without Impairment education program, at a cost of $170.

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Four demerit points are applied to their driving record. Additional financial penalties and loss of insurance discounts may also apply, depending on the driver’s BAC level.

Saskatoon police Const. Patrick Foster trains other officers across the country on how to identify impaired drivers, particularly those who are impaired by drugs other than alcohol.

He said officers could stop a vehicle “without suspicion” and make a mandatory alcohol screening demand. However, officers usually make such a demand when they suspect alcohol or other drug impairment is involved. An approved screening device is then used to take a sample.

Foster said drivers should expect penalties to kick in the moment a BAC of .04 or higher is detected.

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Lynn Prestley, coordinator of Saskatoon Driving Without Impairment (DWI), said drivers required to take the program need to understand the impairing effect that even a small amount of alcohol has on driving ability. Reasoning, inhibition levels, memory, vision and hearing are all affected, even with just one drink.

“You need all of these functions to effectively drive a vehicle,” he said, adding that adverse effects are present after one drink, and are unpredictable.

The best approach to driving without impairment is to plan ahead if you know you’re going to drink, she added.

In 2022, police issued 1,968 short-term license suspensions to Saskatchewan drivers for exceeding provincial limits for alcohol and drugs. McMurchy said the leading cause of death on our roads is impaired driving, taking the lives of 34 people each year on average.

“Every single one of those deaths is preventable,” he said.

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