The Province of Alberta has an “Administrative Licence Suspension” program that imposes penalties, including driver’s licence suspensions, on drivers who the police believe have driven while under the influence of alcohol. Alberta has had and Administrative Licence Suspension program since 1999, but in 2012, the Traffic Safety Act was amended to increase the penalties associated with alcohol-related driving.
It is referred to as an “administrative” licence program because it is separate from the penalties set out in the Criminal Code. If you have also been charged under the Criminal Code, please see our page on Impaired Driving.
Under the Traffic Safety Act, there are four different kinds of roadside licence suspensions:
- A 24-hour roadside suspension,
- A 30-day “zero tolerance” suspension for novice drivers,
- A 3-day, 15-day, or 30-day suspension for driving “over .05,” and,
- An indefinite suspension if you are charged with a criminal impaired driving offence.
All four types of suspensions take effect immediately upon the police officer serving your with a copy of the “Notice of Suspension.”
1. 24-HOUR ROADSIDE SUSPENSIONS – TRAFFIC SAFETY ACTSECTION 89
A police officer may immediately suspend a person’s driver’s licence for 24 hours if the officer reasonably suspects that the driver:
- Has a medical or physical condition that affects the driver’s physical or mental ability, or,
- Has enough alcohol or drugs in their body that the driver’s physical or mental ability is affected.
A police officer needs a relatively low level of proof to issue a 24-hour suspension. They only need to reasonably suspect that a person’s mental or physical abilities are somehow “affected”. They do not need to be able to prove that the person’s ability to drive is actually impaired. In addition, the police do not need to have results from a “breathalyzer” breath test that suggests the person has more than a certain amount of alcohol in their bloodstream, or proof that a person has ingested a certain drug. A reasonable suspicion based on the officer’s observations is enough.
2. 30-DAY “ZERO TOLERANCE” SUSPENSIONS FOR NOVICE DRIVERS – TRAFFIC SAFETY ACT SECTION 90
A “novice driver” (i.e., a person who holds a graduated driver’s licence (GDL or a learner’s licence (class 7)) is not allowed to operate a motor vehicle with any alcohol in their body.
If a police officer reasonably suspects that a novice driver has consumed alcohol and driven a motor vehicle, the officer can demand that the novice driver provide a sample of their breath into a roadside screening device. If the screening test indicates that the novice driver has any alcohol in their blood, the police officer will suspend the novice driver’s licence for 30 days.
3. “POINT ZERO FIVE” IMMEDIATE ROADSIDE SUSPENSIONS – TRAFFIC SAFETY ACT SECTION 88
This is the new type of suspension introduced in 2012 which has attracted a large amount of attention from the public.
If a police officer has reasonable grounds to believe that a person’s blood alcohol level is equal to or higher than 50 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood (“.05” or “50 mg/%”), the officer will issue an immediate roadside licence suspension. This suspension requires a much lower level of alcohol in the blood than the legal blood alcohol limit set out in the Criminal Code, which is 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood (“.08” or “80 mg/%”).
How will the police determine a driver’s blood alcohol level? Most often, the police will require that a person blow into a roadside screening device, often referred to as an “Approved Screening Device” or “ASD.” Roadside screening devices measure the amount of alcohol in a person’s breath, which is related to the amount of alcohol in their bloodstream.
Generally, the police may lawfully demand that a driver to blow into an ASD when they have a reasonable suspicion that the person has alcohol in their body, and when they have a reasonable suspicion the person has been driving within the last three hours. If the screening device suggests your blood alcohol level is higher than 50 mg/%, the police will immediately suspend your licence at the side of the road, and will tow and impound your vehicle.
The length of the suspension and the period of time your vehicle is impounded will depend on whether you have ever had your licence suspended before:
- For a first suspension within the last 10 years, you will receive a 3-daylicence suspension, and your vehicle will be impounded for 3 days.
- For a second suspension within the last 10 years, you will receive a 15-day licence suspension, and your vehicle will be impounded for 7 days.
- For a third or subsequent suspension within the last 10 years, you will receive a 30-day licence suspension, and your vehicle will be impounded for 7 days.
There are additional penalties and requirements for persons who receive more than one immediate suspension in a 10-year period:
- If you have two suspensions within 10 years, you will be required to complete a mandatory impaired driving educational program. The Registrar of Motor Vehicles may also put certain terms and conditions on your driver’s licence, and you may be required to appear before the Transportation Safety Board for a review of your driving privileges.
- If you have three or more suspensions within 10 years, you will have all the same requirements as a second suspension set out above, but there will be a mandatory review of your driver’s licence before the Transportation Safety Board.
You do not have the right to appeal a first-time, 3-day suspension. If you have had at least one prior immediate roadside suspension in the last 10 years, however, you can appeal your second or subsequent suspension to the Transportation Safety Board. You will need to act quickly to ensure your appeal is heard before you have served your entire suspension, however.
4. INDEFINITE ADMINISTRATIVE LICENCE SUSPENSIONS – TRAFFIC SAFETY ACT SECTION 88.1
If a police officer decides to charge a person with an impaired driving offence under the Criminal Code, the officer will suspend the person’s driver’s licence until the criminal charges are dealt with through the court. Unfortunately, because our court system is so backed up, it can often take several months – and sometimes even more than a year – before the criminal charges are finally dealt with through the court system.
This new rule, introduced in 2012, is unfair to persons charged with a criminal offence. It suspends their licence for an arbitrary period of time that is unrelated to traffic safety, and it punishes drivers for exercising their constitutional right to a trial. Because this rule seems to suggest drivers are “guilty until proven innocent,” it will be challenged through the courts.
Does this new rule mean that your licence will be suspended until you plead guilty or are found guilty? In theory, yes, but there are two ways you may be able to avoid this lengthy “administrative” suspension:
- First, you have the right to appeal your licence suspension to the Transportation Safety Board.
- Second, there may be a way to participate in a challenge to this new rule, and if you take part in this challenge, you may be able to get your licence back until the court rules on the challenge.
If your licence has been suspended because you have been charged with an impaired driving offence, you should consult with a lawyer right away – before you lose your right to appeal, and before pleading guilty.
HOW DO I KNOW WHICH KIND OF SUSPENSION I RECEIVED?
You can determine which kind of suspension you have received by looking at the piece of paper the police provided you when they seized and suspended your driver’s licence.
If the police officer suspended your licence for 24 hours, the notice will be titled “24 Hour Driver Suspension/Disqualification – Notice of Suspension/Disqualification”, and will look like this:
If the police officer issued another type of suspension, the notice will be titled “Notice of Suspension/Disqualification”. You will need to look at which boxes of the form that were checked off by the officer to determine which kind of suspension you received:
- If the box under heading #1 is checked (“Alberta Administrative Licence Suspension/Disqualification Program (AALS)”), your licence has been suspended until your criminal charges are dealt with through court.
- If the box under heading #2 is checked (“Alberta Zero Alcohol Tolerance Program for Novice/GDL (AZAT)”), you have received a 30-day novice driver licence suspension.
- If the box under heading #3 is checked (“Immediate Roadside Sanctions (IRS)”), your licence has been suspended for either 3, 15, or 30 days, depending on which box the officer has checked on the form.
ADMINISTRATIVE LICENCE SUSPENSION APPEALS
You may have the right to appeal an administrative suspension. You have the right to appeal a suspension to the Transportation Safety Board in the following circumstances:
- If you have been issued at least one prior “immediate roadside suspension” in the last ten years,
- If you have been charged criminally and your licence has been suspended until your criminal charges are dealt with, or,
- If you are a novice driver who has been issued a 30-day suspension.
It is important to act quickly. You have only 30 days from when you were issued your suspension to file an appeal with the Transportation Safety Board. In addition, filing an appeal does not automatically lift the suspension against you.
Keep in mind that Transportation Safety Board will only consider certain kinds of arguments on an appeal. Losing your job, or other negative consequences to your life caused by the loss of your licence, will not be enough for the Board to allow your appeal and overturn the suspension.
Because appeals to the Transportation Safety Board may involve complicated issues of law, you should consider hiring a lawyer to assist you with the appeal. If you have received a licence suspension and are interested in appealing the suspension to the Transportation Safety Board, please contact us.