“I’m not impaired, just a bit high.”

Interior of car with two women and a man smiling and laughing.

We all pride ourselves on being safe, responsible drivers. But do you know what the legal definition of ‘impaired’ is when you’re behind the wheel? Even though you may not feel impaired, and whether you exceed the legal limits or not, consumption of any amount of alcohol, cannabis or other recreational drug may impair your ability to operate a motor vehicle, putting you and others at risk.

A daughter, a sister, a friend

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), a national organization whose mission is to stop impaired driving and support the victims, has a heartbreaking record of victim tributes) on their website.

Victims like Ottawa’s Emma Leckey. Emma was just weeks away from her 22nd birthday and about to graduate from university when she was struck by a drunk driver. Emma never regained consciousness and died of her injuries.

Emma had majored in Ethics, Society and Law and intended to pursue a career focused on helping others. She had already done a good deal of that in her short life, chairing the Canadian Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, advocating for 2SLGBTQQIA rights, and devoting her honours research project to Indigenous health issues. “Emma was the most loyal of friends, most of all to her older brother and sister,” states her father, Geoff Leckey. “Every moment spent with Emma was fun. Heads turned to catch her beautiful smile. She loved music, dogs, travelling, blue cheese, Bananagrams, badminton and pedicures. Emma was looking forward to living her life and helping others. What a gift stolen from the world. So many hearts broken.”

It's the law

The amount you’ve consumed is irrelevant if you exhibit signs of impairment – it’s a criminal offence. If police determine that you have drugs or alcohol in your system and/or that you are impaired by any substance, you can face severe consequences and potential criminal charges.

It’s a life

Receiving a fine or even a short license suspension is one thing, but seriously injuring or killing someone is another. Data confirms the danger. Between 2017-2021, there were 25 fatal or major injury collisions in Ottawa related to impaired driving. Those are 25 mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, partners or friends whose lives were forever changed or lost.

The safe alternatives

We all know suitable alternatives to impaired driving, but here is a reminder:

  • Have a designated driver who is not consuming
  • Call a taxi or ride-sharing service
  • Take public transit
  • Walk, if the distance permits (and wear bright clothing after dark)
  • Spend the night somewhere close

Be the safe driver you want to be and don’t drive after consuming any amount of drugs or alcohol.

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