Did you know that if you are stopped by law enforcement in Alberta and suspected of being under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you can have your licence suspended immediately?

No definitive proof is needed and no blood or urine test is required. An allegation by a police officer is enough.

Under Alberta’s Immediate Roadside Sanctions (IRS) program, any one of five different types of roadside sanctions can be authorized by a police officer, depending on your license type and the roadside screening results.

It is important to understand your rights (and law enforcement’s rights) concerning the new laws so that if you are stopped and have an immediate sanction imposed, you understand what is happening and what you should do.

What are Immediate Roadside Sanctions (IRS)?

Immediate roadside sanctions allow a police officer in Alberta to suspend your driver’s licence for a set period if there is reasonable suspicion that you were not driving lawfully according to impaired driving laws.

If you are stopped, a series of roadside screening tests may be performed by the police officer and an assessment made of your ability to drive lawfully.

The Immediate Roadside Suspension Program replaced the Alberta Administrative License Suspension program in December 2020. It was designed to reduce delays for suspensions and relieve pressure on the justice system.

The Traffic Safety Act details five different types of sanctions, which are explained in more detail in the next section:

  1. IRS: 24-Hour
  2. IRS: Novice
  3. IRS: Commercial
  4. IRS: Warn
  5. IRS: Fail

Is an IRS a criminal charge?

An IRS simply replaces the administrative license suspension program in Alberta.

It is not a criminal charge but you may face a separate criminal charge, depending on the results of chemical tests performed at the police station, your criminal record, and whether any aggravating factors were present, such as children in the vehicle.

Even if you are not convicted of a crime, your provincial license suspension will stand as it is treated as an entirely separate matter in Alberta.

What are the different types of IRS sanctions?

Alberta’s Traffic Safety Act details the different types of roadside sanctions. The impact on your driving privileges depends on which particular sanction is applied in your case.

Your sanction will be detailed on your “Notice of Administrative Penalty”, which the police officer will present to you when the roadside sanction is imposed.

The five types of sanctions are:

  1. IRS: 24-Hour

This sanction applies if a peace officer has reasonable grounds to suspect that you have consumed alcohol or drugs and it is impairing your driving. The sanctions are as follows:

  • A 24-hour immediate driving suspension
  • Seizure of your vehicle for 24 hours (possible)
  • Seizure of your driver’s license (possible)
  1. IRS: Novice

The legal limit for drivers with a learner’s or probationary licence in Alberta is zero. So, this sanction is imposed upon any driver suspected of having any alcohol in their blood. The sanctions are as follows:

  • A 30-day immediate driving suspension
  • Seizure of your vehicle for 7 days (possible)
  • A $200 fine plus a victim fine surcharge
  • Reinstatement conditions for your licence (possible)
  1. IRS: Commercial

The legal limit for drivers operating a commercial vehicle in Alberta is zero. Anyone suspected of having any alcohol or illicit drugs in their system may incur the following sanctions:

  • An immediate driving suspension for 3 to 30 days
  • A fine of $300 to $1200 plus a victim fine surcharge
  • Reinstatement conditions for your licence (possible)
  1. IRS: Warn

Even if you are below the legal limit in Alberta (0.08 for standard licences), you can still receive an immediate roadside sanction. This applies if you are suspected of having a BAC of 0.05 to 0.08. Depending on whether it is your first or subsequent offence, the sanctions are as follows:

  • An immediate driving suspension for 3 to 30 days
  • Seizure of your vehicle for 3 to 7 days
  • A fine of $300 to $1200 plus a victim fine surcharge
  • Participation in an education course
  1. IRS: Fail

This sanction is applied when you are suspected of operating a vehicle while impaired by alcohol or drugs or if you fail an alcohol or drug test within two hours of operating the vehicle. It is the most serious sanction and may also be imposed if you refuse a test. The sanctions are as follows (most serious if you have committed prior offences):

  • A 90-day immediate driving suspension
  • Seizure of your vehicle for 30 days
  • A fine of $1,000 to $2,000 plus a victim fine surcharge
  • Participation in Alberta’s Ignition Interlock Program for 12 months, 36 months or life
  • Participation in an education course

You are also likely to be subject to a criminal charge with this sanction.

The Ignition Interlock Program and IRS

The IRS: Fail immediate roadside sanction refers to Alberta’s “Ignition Interlock Program”.

Under the terms of this program, a breathalyzer is installed in the driver’s vehicle. Before he or she can start the engine and operate the vehicle, a breath sample must be provided. If any alcohol is detected on the breath, the vehicle will not start.

Because of the success of this program in reducing the risks posed by impaired drivers across the province, it is becoming a preferred option.

The program allows Alberta residents to drive if they abide by the law even if they have made mistakes in the past. To be eligible for the program, however, no other suspensions can be active and you must have:

  • 30 days or less remaining on your minimum 90-day driving suspension term, and
  • Completed the required remedial education course

What is SafeRoads Alberta?

SafeRoads Alberta is a new branch of the provincial government set up to provide a speedy method of resolving disputes. It is seen as much quicker than having to go through lengthy court processes and relieves the burden on police time and the justice system.

All administrative matters regarding licenses must be dealt with within 30 days. Unfortunately, if you receive a criminal charge, there is no escaping the criminal justice system.

Received an IRS and in need of legal advice?

If you receive an immediate roadside sanction in Alberta, you only have seven days to launch a review of your license suspension.

The consequences of a suspension can be harsh and rather than simply accepting the penalty, first speak to experienced DUI defence lawyer Alan Pearse for a free evaluation of whether your case can be contested.

It may save you from a lengthy license suspension or worse, a criminal conviction.