Jessica is 17 years old. She doesn't own a car, but she's been saving up money from her part time job to eventually purchase her own car in the near future. In the meantime, Jessica drives around her mother's car whenever she needs to. Jessica is the only one among her friends who has a driver's licence, so her friends often depend on her to give them a ride.
One night there was a dance taking place at her school, and all the students were planning to attend. Jessica was very excited for this dance because her exams were finally all over. She was looking forward to partying and celebrating with her classmates. Many of Jessica’s friends were planning on getting wasted at the dance and she ensured them that she'd remain a designated driver for them. Although Jessica and her friends were below Ontario’s legal drinking age, they still planned to drink.
Jessica ended up drinking along with her friends during the party. She knew how dangerous it is to drink irresponsibly, but she continued to drink through the party along with her friends, even though she knew that she was supposed to drive everyone home safely.
Although Jessica didn't drink as much as her friends she still had a high amount of alcohol in her system , enough to possibly impair her driving ability. Jessica has heard of the effects of drinking and driving countless times and she knows that drinking and driving can lead to accidents that claim lives. She knows that driving home would put many innocent lives, including those of her friends, at risk.
Why does drinking and driving lead to accidents?
When a person drinks alcohol, it affects their ability to see and think about things the way that they normally do. Ability to judge distances, to respond quickly to changes on the road, and to see clearly can all be affected. All this means that accidents are more likely to happen when someone drinks and drives.
The amount of alcohol in a person’s body is measured by how much alcohol is in their blood. This is called blood alcohol concentration, or BAC. Your BAC is affected by factors like how much you drink, how fast you drink, your gender, your body weight, and how much food is in your stomach. Because these factors change based on the individual person, it is very hard to know how much drinking will lead to impairment of your driving abilities. It’s also very hard to assess your own BAC or impairment. Overall, a higher BAC means that the alcohol you’ve drunk will have a greater impact on your driving performance.
What are the consequences of drinking and driving?
Drinking and driving leads to accidents, including death and injury. It accounts for almost 25% of car accident deaths in Ontario. However, it can also lead to charges being laid against the driver, fines and licence suspensions, and the impoundment of a vehicle.
In Ontario, if you are 21 and under, there is a zero blood alcohol concentration (BAC) rule while driving. This means that regardless of which kind of licence you have (G, G1, G2), if you are caught with any alcohol in your blood, you will receive an immediate 24-hour roadside driver licence suspension. You will likely then be charged with impaired driving. If you are convicted of the charge, you can be fined between $60 and $500, and your licence can be suspended for 30 days. If you are a young driver with a G1 or G2 licence, you can face even stricter consequences, including being returned to the start of the Graduated Licencing System. For example, this means that if Jessica has her G2 and is caught drinking, she may lose her G2 licence (which allows her to drive her friends unaccompanied by an adult) and be returned to the start of the licensing process.
Higher BACs (between 0.05-0.08, and above 0.08) lead to even more severe consequences.
What are Jessica’s other options?
Jessica chose to drink even though she had agreed to be the designated driver. Now she has another decision to make: drive home or find alternative options. If Jessica chooses to drive home, she risks the safety of herself, her friends, and others on the road. She also risks being caught driving while impaired, either because of an accident or because she is stopped by a police officer, which could have a serious impact on her ability to drive. If she drives home drunk, she will also have to consider what will happen if her mother finds out about what she has done.
JFCY has posted about drinking and driving in the past - check out these past posts for more information: July 2012 ; September 2011
The scenario for this post was written by Deqa Abdi, a volunteer member of the JFCY PLE Team. The legal info was written by JFCY volunteer Leora Jackson, a UofT law student. Reviewed by JFCY.