Seven things you absolutely must know as a driver in BC

“I went to a party at a friend’s place. I had just two drinks — and a couple of joints. But I felt totally fine, so I decided to drive home. I got pulled over, and the officer found I was over the legal limit. My car was towed, my licence was suspended, and I was fined, big time. I also have to go to court to deal with impaired driving charges and could end up with a criminal record. I wish I’d called a cab."

– Joey, Abbotsford, BC

When you get behind the wheel, the choices you make can help everyone get to where they’re going safely. Learn seven key things you absolutely need to know as a driver in British Columbia. 

What you should know

1. How much is too much: when you’re impaired

Alcohol and drugs can impair your judgment, slow your reaction time, and diminish your overall driving performance, putting the safety of everyone on the road at risk. In fact, one of the main causes of death and injury on the road in Canada is impaired driving. This is when your ability to drive is affected by alcohol, drugs, or both. 

It’s not illegal to drive with some alcohol or drugs in your body. So how much is too much? 

Your blood-alcohol concentration is the amount of alcohol in your blood. If your concentration is .05, that means you have 50 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood. Under BC law, if you drive with a blood-alcohol concentration of .05 or more, there are legal consequences. The police can give you an immediate roadside prohibition. Your vehicle will be towed, you’ll have to pay penalties and fees, and you’ll be prohibited from driving for at least three days (longer if you’ve had previous prohibitions).

The legal consequences are similar if you drive with a blood-drug concentration of 2 ng or more. This means you have over 2 nanograms of THC (the active ingredient in cannabis) per millilitre of blood.

How quickly you reach these levels will vary depending on your body type, weight, and food intake at the time you’re consuming. You can reach these levels more quickly than you might expect. MADD Canada explains how you can calculate your blood-alcohol concentration

If you drive with a blood-alcohol concentration of .08 or more, you can be charged with a crime under the Criminal Code. This is even more serious. You will typically get a 90-day driving prohibition, and if you are convicted of the crime, you will be fined at least $1,000 and prohibited from driving for at least a year. Repeat offences mean higher penalties, including jail time. For more, see this overview of impaired driving

You’ll also pay more in vehicle insurance premiums if you have an impaired driving-related conviction under the Criminal Code.

If you take drugs and drive

Similarly, if you drive with a blood-drug concentration of 5 ng or more, you can be charged with a crime under the Criminal Code.

You can also be charged with a crime if you have a combined blood-alcohol concentration of .05 or more and blood-drug concentration of 2.5 ng or more.

If the court finds you guilty for the first time of these criminal offences, you’ll face a number of penalties, including being fined at least $1,000, possible jail time, and a driving prohibition of between one and three years. Just like drinking and driving, repeat offences mean higher penalties, including jail time.

The kind of drugs that can impair your performance as a driver include cannabis and cocaine. Also included: certain prescription and over-the-counter drugs (like some allergy medications).

2. Buckle up: it’s the law

Even when your faculties are top notch, there’s a lot to be mindful of when behind the wheel in BC. This includes keeping you and your passengers safe in your vehicle.

Since 1977, seatbelts have been mandatory in BC because they can prevent injuries and deaths. Under BC’s seatbelt laws:

  • every seat in your vehicle must have a seatbelt, and

  • the driver and each passenger in the vehicle must wear one. 

The driver must make sure that passengers under age 16 are wearing their seatbelts properly. Passengers age 16 and over are responsible for putting their seatbelt on themselves.

There’s a $167 fine for anyone in the vehicle caught not wearing a seatbelt. The driver will have to pay an additional fine for each passenger under 16 who isn’t buckled up. 

3. You can’t make your own child car seat

In 2019, an Ontario man was charged after his toddler was found in the back seat propped up proudly on a case of beer. You can’t just MacGyver a booster seat. 

In BC, as in Ontario, the law protects the safety of children in vehicles. This includes the use of proper child car seats. These are seats with seatbelts specially designed to protect children from injury or death during an accident. 

Basically, there are four stages of child seating and seatbelt systems. As they grow, children progress through mandatory types of car seating arrangements. Take a look at the chart below to see the different stages.

Car seat stages infographic

When you arrive at your destination, check your vehicle to make sure each child has been able to remove their seatbelt and exit safely.

Checking that a car seat is safe

Make sure your child car seat is CMVSS-approved. That stands for the Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. In some communities, the local fire hall will check your child car seat to make sure it's safe. For more information, visit the BCAA Child Passenger Safety Program or call the program at 1-877-247-5551.

4. Drivers must stop for pedestrians in crosswalks

Drivers share the road with others, including pedestrians and cyclists. But there’s a big difference for these other user groups. If they’re hit by a car or truck, pedestrians and cyclists can be seriously hurt or killed. Because of this, BC’s motor vehicle laws set out rules aimed to keep all users of the road safe.  

Under this law, drivers must stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk. A crosswalk can be marked or unmarked. An unmarked crosswalk can be an “extension of the lateral lines of a sidewalk.” So, for example, if there’s a sidewalk at each opposite corner of an intersection, you must stop for a pedestrian crossing the road. If you don’t, you could be fined $167 and given three driver penalty points. 

If someone is crossing the road somewhere other than a crosswalk, drivers have the right of way. But drivers are expected to slow down. In fact, they must honk their horn in warning and take care not to hit a pedestrian crossing the road. 

5. There’s a big fine for “dooring” cyclists

The law treats cyclists like they’re drivers of a vehicle on the road. This means they have to follow the rules of the road — just as drivers do. If they don't, they can be ticketed and fined. (But unlike drivers, cyclists can’t get driver penalty points.)

For drivers, there are rules of the road even when you’re parked. They include checking that it’s safe to open your car door before doing so. Cavalierly throwing open your door in the path of an oncoming cyclist is called dooring. And whether it’s the driver or their passenger who does this, it’s an offence. In fact, dooring has become such a big problem in BC that the fine is as big as the one for distracted driving: $368. It also comes with two driver penalty points.

We have more coverage of cyclists and the law.

6. You can’t “make a u-turn at the next intersection” just because Siri told you to

Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant aren’t actually authority figures. (Though they might seem like navigational heroines on your phone.) In BC, u-turns are illegal at any intersection with a traffic light. In Vancouver, u-turns are banned almost everywhere. While you might be tempted to follow Siri, Alexa, or Google Assistant’s directions, they won’t have your back in court after you’ve done something illegal.

7. If you don’t follow driving laws, you can get a ticket, driver penalty points, and more

If you don’t follow BC’s motor vehicle laws, you’ll get a traffic ticket. (Technically, these are called violation tickets.) In more serious cases, like drinking and driving, you can also be charged with a crime.  

You can get a traffic ticket directly from a police officer who pulled you over. Or you might get a ticket in the mail if you're caught by an intersection camera speeding or running a red light.

In any case, if you get a traffic ticket, it will say what driving rule you’ve broken and what the penalty is. Usually, you’re looking at a fine. Depending on the driving offence, though, you could also get driver penalty points. These count against your driving record and can raise your insurance premiums. For more, see this overview of how the points system works.

When you get a traffic ticket, you’ll need to decide whether you want to pay or dispute it. This involves considering what the penalty is and whether there will be driver penalty points. In some cases, there may be more serious penalties. These include having your car taken away or being prohibited from driving for a certain period of time.

To learn more, see what to do if you get a traffic ticket.

  • Reviewed for legal accuracy in December 2020
  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Time to read: 7 minutes

Reviewed for legal accuracy by

Krista Prockiw, ICBC

Krista Prockiw

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