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Drinking, Driving, the Law and Young Adults


a gavel, an alcoholic beverage and car keys

There are serious dangers that come with drinking alcohol and driving, but there are also legal implications. Talking to young adults about the laws around driving and driving after drinking can reduce the risk of harm for your child and others.

Here’s an overview of BC’s drinking and driving laws and why we have them.

People around the world know that alcohol impairs thinking, coordination and other skills required for safe driving. Most countries have laws that make it illegal to drive with a blood alcohol content (BAC) beyond a certain level, with penalties for non-compliance and for causing injury and damages while impaired. Here’s why:

  • With as little as 0.01 per cent BAC, drivers are less likely to follow safety practices and more likely to be in accidents causing serious harm.
  • Risk for fatality rises significantly at 0.04 per cent BAC and rises rapidly above 0.08 per cent BAC.
  • 30 per cent of road fatalities involve alcohol use.

Canadian and BC laws

  • Driving with a BAC higher than 0.08 per cent is a punishable offence against the criminal code in Canada. The penalties are stiffer in British Columbia.
  • BC has a graduated licensing program requiring new drivers of all ages to pass through a 12 month learner stage and 24 month novice stage before getting a regular class driver’s licence.
  • Learner and novice drivers must have a zero BAC at all times - a BAC higher than 0 results in an extension of the graduated licensing program and possibly other penalties.
  • Drivers who have their full license and are caught driving with a BAC between 0.05 per cent and 0.08 per cent receive a temporary driving ban and a fine. The length of ban and amount of fine depend on the number of times the driver has been caught drinking and driving within a five-year period. After three offences, a driver has to take a training program for responsible driving and, for one year, use a device that connects to their car’s ignition that they have to blow into to confirm a zero BAC before starting the vehicle.

Why BC Has Graduated Licensing

Most novice (or new) drivers are in their late teens or early 20’s, the age group with the highest rate of vehicle accidents. Youth and young adults may look fully grown, but their brains are not fully developed until at least age 25. Young males in particular are more likely to take risks on the road and with alcohol and other substances. The “zero BAC” rule for new drivers is a step toward safer communities as it instills the practice of never mixing alcohol with driving.


Last Updated: March 31, 2015