Is Impaired Driving a Criminal Offence in Alberta?

Impaired driving is a criminal offence in Alberta

Alberta’s Impaired Driving laws changed in the last few years, making them quite different from some other provinces. If you’re wondering if impaired driving is a criminal offence in Alberta, you’re not alone. In this blog, we embark on a comprehensive exploration, shedding light on the various impaired driving offences, the nuanced distinctions between them, and the far-reaching legal implications. Join us as we unravel the complexities of impaired driving laws in Alberta.

If you’ve been charged with drunk driving, you’re not alone, and we can help you! Contact our team for the best possible outcome.

Types of Impaired Driving Offences in Alberta

Alberta has several levels of impaired driving offences. Ranging from administrative penalties under the Immediate Roadside Sanctions (IRS) program to the weighty implications of criminal charges. The different impaired driving offences in Alberta include:

  • IRS: 24-Hour Suspension
  • IRS: ZERO (Novice Program)
  • IRS: ZERO (Commercial Program)
  • Criminal Impaired Driving

IRS: 24-Hour Suspension:

If you are suspected of driving under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or a physical condition (such as sleep deprivation, prescription drugs, or anything else that would impair your driving ability) police officers have the ability to suspend your licence for 24 hours with no proof or testing. 


IRS: WARN is given to people who blow an alcohol limit above 0.04 but below the criminal limit of 0.08. If you are given an IRS: WARN administrative penalty, you will receive fines, a temporary licence suspension, and vehicle seizure. A first time offence results in a 3 day licence suspension and vehicle seizure, plus a $300 fine. A second IRS: WARN offence will result in you getting your licence suspended for 15 days, a 7 day vehicle seizure, $600 fine, and required coursework. If you get a third (and any other subsequent offences) IRS: WARN offence, you will receive a 30 day licence suspension, 7 day vehicle seizure, $1200 fine, and required coursework. 

IRS ZERO (Novice/Commercial):

If you are a commercial driver or a Class 5 GDL or Class 7 Learners driver, you are required to have a zero percent alcohol level. As a learner if you have any drugs or alcohol in your system you will be given a $200 fine, your vehicle will be seized, and your licence will be suspended for a month. As a commercial driver, your first offence is a 3 day licence suspension and a $300 fine, your second offence will result in a 15 day licence suspension and a $600 fine, and your third (and subsequent) offence would result in a 30 day licence suspension and $1200 fine.


Considered the most severe offence, an IRS: FAIL occurs when a driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is a 0.08 or higher, they are impaired by alcohol or drugs in their ability to operate a motor vehicle, or they refuse a drug or alcohol test. The first time you commit this offence results in a 30 day vehicle seizure, $1200 fine, 3 months of licence suspension and another 12 months of required participation in the Ignition Interlock program. If you are charged a second time, you’ll be given a $2400 fine, 30 day vehicle seizure, 3 month licence suspension, 36 months of required participation on the ignition interlock program, and required completion of course work. If you are given an IRS: FAIL a third time, you’ll have a 30 day vehicle seizure, 3 month licence suspension, and a lifetime required enrolment in the ignition interlock program, plus a $2400 fine.

The IRS: FAIL system is a Provincial Administrative Penalty, and not a Criminal Code charge.  There is no Court date and your Criminal Record is not affected.  However, Criminal Code charges can still also be laid in certain cases, and if certain aggravating factors exist.  

Is Impaired Driving a Criminal Offence in Alberta?

drunk driving is a criminal offence

Yes, impaired driving, driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 or more, and refusing to provide a breath sample, are still criminal offences in Alberta. Moreover, impairment caused by any drug—whether illegal, prescription, or over-the-counter—can result in criminal charges as well.  This is true in all Canadian provinces.  You could face the following consequences:

  • License Suspension: A mandatory suspension of the driver’s license upon conviction.
  • Fines: Substantial fines imposed as a penalty for impaired driving convictions. 
  • Ignition Interlock Program: For most offenders, the installation of an ignition interlock device may be required, allowing the vehicle to start only after the driver provides a breath sample free of alcohol.
  • Imprisonment: In cases of extreme impairment or repeated offenses, imprisonment may be imposed, ranging from 30 days to up to 10 years, depending on a wide variety of circumstances.
  • Education courses: you may be required to complete several Planning Ahead or other impaired driving prevention courses.
  • Criminal Record: A conviction for impaired driving results in a criminal record, which can have long-lasting implications on employment, travel, and other aspects of life.
  • Reinstatement requirements: The Province of Alberta has a variety of mandatory reinstatement conditions, including mandatory Ignition Interlock, and reinstatement fees.


Fighting IRS Penalties vs Criminal Charges

IRS Penalties Appeal

If you have been given an IRS administrative penalty, you only have 7 days to initiate an appeal. If you retain a lawyer, they can argue on your behalf before an appeal board and represent you for the Appeal.

Criminal Charges Defence

In contrast, defending criminal charges involves navigating court dates and legal proceedings. This intricate process requires the help of an experienced criminal defence lawyer. Rather than an appeal process in front of a board, if you have been charged with criminal impaired driving, you will be required to appear in court to face the charges.  If you have been charged with criminal impaired driving, time is of the essence, and you should contact a criminal defence lawyer with experience in DUI charges right away.

What to do if Charged with Criminal Impaired Driving in Alberta:

Facing a criminal charge for impaired driving is a serious matter that requires careful and strategic action. First and foremost, you should seek legal representation immediately. Contact an experienced DUI lawyer who understands the intricacies of criminal impaired driving, they will guide you through the legal process. Brian McGlashan is a criminal defence lawyer who has spent decades representing people who have been charged with criminal impaired driving. As a skilled attorney, he can assess the details of your case, review the evidence against you, and formulate a defence strategy tailored to your specific situation. Brian McGlashan can also advise you on the potential consequences you may face and work to protect your rights throughout the legal proceedings.

Once you have found your defence lawyer, it’s important that you follow their advice and comply with any court-imposed deadlines and requirements. This may include attending court hearings, submitting necessary documentation, or following conditions set by the court, such as attending alcohol education programs or installing an ignition interlock device. Failing to meet these obligations can exacerbate your legal troubles. Furthermore, it is essential to refrain from discussing your case with anyone other than your lawyer. Anything you say or do can be used against you in court, so maintaining open and confidential communication with your DUI lawyer is your best bet. Remember, being charged with a criminal DUI is a serious matter, and following the guidance of an experienced criminal defence lawyer is the first step toward protecting your rights and achieving the best possible outcome in your case.

Whether you are facing an Alberta IRS Suspension or Criminal Charges, Contact Brian McGlashan for experienced representation.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Picture of Brian McGlashan
Brian McGlashan
Brian McGlashan, co-founder of McGlashan & Company was called to the Alberta Bar in 1995. Brian has appeared in all levels of Alberta Courts. Brian practices criminal law with a primary focus on Impaired Driving charges (DUI). Brian is a member of the Criminal Trial Lawyers’ Association.

McGlashan & Company is an Edmonton Criminal Law Firm located just south of Edmonton’s historic Whyte Avenue.

Brian McGlashan has been defending DUI/Impaired Driving charges in Edmonton for over 20+ years.