In every country, getting your driver’s licence doesn’t just require a solid understanding of the traffic laws. At the risk of being severely penalized, it is essential to be aware of the many dangers of the road, especially those related to drinking and driving.
Are you moving to Montreal, Quebec? Even though you’ll still drive on the right, and driving an automatic won’t take any getting used to, take the time to get to know the rules of the road that are in force in Canada. Some differences may surprise you.
Comparison of drunk and impaired driving laws
First and foremost, drinking and driving places the driver and everyone else on the road in grave danger, but it’s also important to know the possible punishments for driving while intoxicated. These sanctions differ according to the country, and their laws and regulations.
Close up on France and its Canadian cousin, Quebec…
What does the law say about drunk driving?
The law on inebriated driving in France
French law penalizes drivers who have a blood alcohol content of 0.5 grams of alcohol per litre of blood. (In North America, this is often called .05% because it amounts to .05 grams of alcohol in every 100 millilitres of blood, and 1 millilitre of blood has a mass roughly equivalent to 1 gram.) Furthermore, since July 1st, 2015, the legal limit has been 0.2 g for novice drivers with learner’s permits.
There is a “0 alcohol” policy for drivers with learner’s permits. However the legal limit authorized in Quebec is higher than in France at 0.8 g of alcohol per litre of blood (or .08%).
What are the regulations?
History of the French regulatons
The French law has evolved greatly over the course of the last century. Starting in 1959, drunk driving became a punishable offense. The breathalyser, enabling blood alcohol content to be measured by expelled air, appeared in 1965. After 1970, blood alcohol tests became obligatory after every traffic accident and the maximum threshold was fixed at 0.8 g of alcohol per litre of blood.
In the 80s, the rate of 0.8 g/l became a crime. A law enforcement crackdown on drunk driving was accompanied by awareness campaigns. In 1994, the maximum threshold was lowered to 0.7 g/l. One year later, it fell again to 0.5 g/l. Finally, it reached 0.2 g/l for novice drivers in 2015.
Although the maximum tolerance is 0.8 g of alcohol per litre of blood, reaching this threshold is considered a criminal offense. However, in Quebec, the law is a bit special since it is not targeted solely at abuse of alcohol.
The law refers to “impairment”. This term refers not only to
- alcohol abuse,
- drug use,
- medication intake,
but also fatigue, for example.
So a driver can be arrested even if their blood alcohol content is not above 0.8 g/l.
If the officer has doubts about a person’s driving, they may conduct a series of tests (tests of driver coordination, alcohol detection devices…) that suffice to place the driver under arrest.
In Quebec, the blood alcohol content limit is not the same for everyone. Driver’s operating heavy vehicles cannot be above a maximum threshold of 0.5 g/l. Zero tolerance is in force for young drivers under the age of 22, apprentice drivers, holders of learner’s permits, bus drivers, minibus drivers, and taxi drivers.
Drunk driving: what are the punishments?
Drunk driving in France
According to article L. 234-2 of the French traffic law, drunk driving (0.5 g/l; 0.2 g/l for learner’s permits) can result in various sanctions such as:
- fines from 135 to 4,500 euros
- 6 points retracted from driver’s licence
- a suspension or withdrawal of licence
- even an immobilization of the vehicle
Above 0.8 g/l, the consequences become more severe, especially for repeat offenders. The fines vary from 4,500 to 9,000 euros, the vehicle can be confiscated, and the driver is required to take a driver safety course. Finally, in the most serious cases, the driver may serve time in prison.
If the driver is above the threshold of 0.8 g/l, they are considered a criminal. They are required to pay a fine of 1,000 dollars, they lose their driver’s licence for at least one year, and they have a criminal record for the rest of their lives.
Prison time for minor offenses can last for 18 months, and can go up to 5 years in case of criminal offenses. Quebec recently strengthened these punishments. If the driver causes a fatal accident, imprisonment may be for life. A lawyer with experience handling drunk driving cases can help manage the consequences of any of these situations.
The SAAQ – société de l’assurance automobile au Quebec (society for car insurance in Quebec)– has the power to suspend driver’s licences and seize vehicles.