Commercial drivers generally have a greater responsibility than the average motorist to drive safely. Drivers of buses, taxis, and other passenger-carrying vehicles are responsible for the safety of their passengers. Commercial truck drivers are obviously responsible for their loads, but most also drive larger vehicles that typically cause significantly more damage in motor vehicle accidents than passenger cars and trucks. According to Ontario driving statistics, accidents involving large trucks caused 23% of the province’s traffic accident fatalities in 2017, more than any other contributing cause.
Given this heightened responsibility, you might think there is zero tolerance for impaired driving by commercial drivers. With expertise in all things relating to driving under the influence (DUI), the Greater Toronto Area criminal defence lawyers of TorontoDUI can tell you that your assumption is mostly correct. While zero tolerance applies to commercial truck and bus drivers, it’s not necessarily applied to commercial passenger car drivers. Let’s take a closer look at DUI laws and regulations covering commercial drivers in Ontario.
Commercial Driver DUI Penalties Under the Criminal Code
Canada’s Criminal Code has no provisions specifically regulating impaired driving by commercial drivers. They are accountable to the same standards, screening methods, blood alcohol concentration limits, and blood drug concentrations that apply to other drivers. However, Section 320.22 has two provisions that can increase the penalties that courts can sentence to commercial drivers convicted of DUI.
Section 320.22 mandates courts to consider seven aggravating factors when imposing a sentence for a DUI conviction. One covers impaired drivers who were being “remunerated for operating the conveyance,” which applies to any commercial driver. Another covers impaired drivers “operating a large motor vehicle,” which would apply to most commercial truck drivers. Thus, commercial drivers face harsher punishment under federal law for a DUI conviction than non-commercial drivers.
Provincial DUI-Related Regulations for Commercial Drivers
While the Criminal Code lacks zero-tolerance provisions for impaired commercial drivers, provinces have DUI-related regulations that specifically apply to them, with many taking a zero-tolerance approach. Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act has zero-tolerance provisions for Class A-F commercial license holders, drivers in vehicles requiring Commercial Vehicle Operator’s Registration (CVOR), and road-building machine drivers.
If police detect alcohol or drug blood concentration levels below Criminal Code thresholds in these driver’s systems, they can be subjected to provincial penalties of a three-day immediate roadside driver’s license suspension and $250 fine. These penalties also apply to commercial drivers with alcohol and drug blood concentrations that exceed the Criminal Code thresholds.
A subsequent conviction by commercial drivers carries the same provincial three-day license suspension, a $350 fine, and mandatory enrollment in an alcohol/drug education or treatment program. Third-time convictions raise the fine to $450, suspend the license for three days, mandate more alcohol/drug education or treatment attendance, and require drivers to drive with an ignition interlock device for six months.
Standard Penalties for DUI In General
In addition to the provincially mandated zero-tolerance penalties, commercial drivers convicted of a first-time Criminal Code DUI offence face a minimum fine of $1,000, a one-year driver’s license suspension, and a permanent criminal record. Subsequent DUI convictions carry longer license suspensions and other penalties. However, due to the previously mentioned aggravating factors, penalties upon conviction are likely to be harsher than the minimum.
Inherent Penalties for DUI and Provincial Zero-Tolerance Violations
Whether provincially convicted of a zero-tolerance violation or a Criminal Code DUI, penalties go beyond those ordered by the court. First, consider all the fees. A first-time zero-tolerance violation includes a mandatory $281 license reinstatement fee and any vehicle impoundment and storage fees. Subsequent offences carry over $600 in fees for education/treatment programs and more than $1,000 for the ignition interlock program.
The same fees apply for a Criminal Code DUI, but the repercussions go far beyond this. To say that the commercial driving job is at risk would be an understatement—no driver’s license usually means no job. This undoubtedly makes it difficult to pay the DUI-related fees, let alone all costs of living, until the driver can secure a new job. And that DUI conviction will continue to haunt drivers going forward, as it represents a black mark on their driver’s record that will undoubtedly stifle their attempts to secure future commercial driving opportunities. It will also continue to haunt drivers at home because they will face up to six years of “high risk” auto insurance premium hikes ranging from $2,000 to $10,000 depending on their vehicle.
Fighting Provincial and Federal DUI-related charges
Whether facing a Criminal Code DUI or provincial zero-tolerance DUI-related charge, commercial drivers cannot afford the numerous judicial and supplementary penalties that come with a conviction. An experienced DUI defence lawyer provides commercial drivers with the best options for avoiding a conviction or mitigating the penalties. Tactics skilled defence lawyers at TorontoDUI use to successfully defend a commercial driver from DUI-related charges include:
- Challenge the legality of the traffic stop leading to the police testing for impairment.
- Raise reasonable doubts about the veracity of the police account of why the driver was stopped and how impairment (or any consumption of alcohol/drugs) was established.
- Challenge the accuracy/reliability of field sobriety testing, roadside screening devices, breathalyzers, and other screening tools.
- Mount a Charter Rights challenge, if warranted.
- Present medical evidence, if applicable, that provides a legitimate explanation for why a commercial driver may have been displaying signs of impairment.
- Negotiate with Crown prosecutors to withdraw or reduce the charges or agree to reduce the penalties.
TorontoDUI criminal defence lawyers have successfully defended more than a thousand Greater Toronto Area clients against DUI-related charges. Our clients include numerous commercial drivers who faced potential financial ruin if convicted. With a compassionate understanding of the day-to-day pressures commercial drivers face in their job, we are committed to securing the most favourable outcomes possible in their DUI defence. If you’re a commercial driver facing DUI-related charges, consult with TorontoDUI to strategize your defence.