In December 2017, I received a first-offence DUI. I’ll get my licence back next week, but I will only be able to drive a car with the interlock installed for the next year. I’m going to weddings in Halifax and Mont Tremblant this summer and I would like to rent a car, but would one with an interlock be available? I’m also wondering, could regular car insurance be lower with an interlock? – Brendan, Toronto
If you’ve had a drunk-driving conviction, you won’t be able to rent a car with an interlock, and you might not be able to rent one at all.
“Unfortunately, rental-car companies don’t put alcohol interlocks on their vehicles,” says Andrew Murie, chief executive officer of Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada. “The rental-car companies could, but they don’t want drunk drivers in their cars anyway.”
Under the Criminal Code, if you’re convicted of driving with a blood-alcohol level (BAC) above .08 for the first time, you’ll face a minimum one-year licence suspension and a minimum $1,000 fine.
To be allowed to drive again, you can only drive vehicles equipped with an ignition interlock, which is basically a breathalyzer attached to your car’s ignition. It won’t let you drive if you’ve been drinking.
Although Canada’s impaired driving law changed last year to allow you to drive with an interlock immediately after conviction, none of the provinces have changed their interlock programs to allow that, Murie says.
Most provinces also require that your driver’s licence shows that you can only drive with an interlock, and rental car companies would see that.
But Kyla Lee, a Vancouver-based criminal-defence lawyer, says rental companies can access your driving records and see whether you’ve had a DUI.
“They’ll refuse to rent to anyone with a record of an impaired driving conviction or a 90-day administrative suspension,” Lee says.
If you’ve had an impaired conviction in a province with private insurance, you’ll see higher rates for six years.
You’ll likely lose your existing coverage and have to go to facility insurance – insurance for drivers deemed too high-risk to be insured anywhere else – for the next three years after the conviction.
That could mean you’re paying a minimum of $10,000 a year and more likely $20,000, according to Murie.
After three years on facility insurance, it would take three more years to gradually return to reasonable rates, he says.
“If you’re making $60,000 a year and you get whacked with a $20,000 insurance policy, you’re not going to be able to drive,” Murie says. “The government-run insurance companies do a better job.”
In B.C., for instance, if you’ve had one impaired conviction, you pay a $1,086 driver-risk premium on top of your existing rates. In Saskatchewan, you’d face a minimum $1,250 penalty and move down their rating scale. In Manitoba, you’d lose 10 points on their scale – the highest risk drivers there (-20) pay an extra $3,000 a year on top of normal rates.
Murie would like to see insurance companies offer more reasonable rates – double the existing rate, for example – for drivers who use the interlock.
But right now, no companies do that, Murie says.
“About 30 per cent of impaired drivers are repeat offenders within 10 years, so it proves that current sanctions do work, including the higher insurance premiums,” Murie says. “We’re not saying there shouldn’t be some penalty, but when it’s too high, it forces drivers to drive without insurance. And if you get hit by someone who’s uninsured, the financial consequences can be huge.”