Care and Control in Impaired Driving

The law is incredibly nuanced and complex; a layman’s understanding of the law will rarely give you the complete picture. Most folks, for example, think that impaired driving means just that; driving while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or other substances that cause you to be a danger on the road. Look at the Criminal Code, however, and you’ll see a far more complicated story. We’re looking at Part VIII.1, Offenses Relating to Conveyances. This section covers a lot more than just impaired driving; it covers impaired vehicle operation of many kinds, fleeing from peace officers, and more. In the terminology, operate means, when relating to a motor vehicle “to drive it or have care and control of it”

What this means is that you can be considered to be operating a motor vehicle even if you’re not actually driving it, so long as you have care and control. What exactly care and control are is, as so many things in the legal system are, a bit ambiguous, and for good reason. Let’s say you’re driving along, and you’re impaired, and you see a police car ahead, so you pull over and stop your car, but the motor is still running. You could argue that you’re not driving the car; it’s in park, after all, and you can’t move forward or steer it, but society wouldn’t want that argument to hold up in court, because it would be too easy to get away with reckless behaviour. Care and control gives leeway to a judge to determine whether or not someone accused of impaired driving was actually engaged in dangerous behaviour, or if they could not reasonably be said to have care and control of the vehicle.

This brings us to an interesting court case which occured in Manitoba recently. A man had just experienced quite a hard day. He’d gotten into a fight with a friend; he got in his truck and started driving towards another friend’s house, in order to cool off. His truck was prone to mechanical problems, and it broke down on route; according to the man, the truck can take up to 6 hours to cool off before it can be driven again. Still upset from his fight, the man decided to drink some beers while he waited; he had a few too many, he says, and opted to sleep in the car so he could sober up. He was arrested by the RCMP, and his case was brought to a judge; the judge ruled that he had broken the law, even though he wasn’t driving (and was, in fact, asleep when the RCMP showed up). The reason? His keys were still in the ignition, and he was asleep in the driver’s seat; the judge wasn’t convinced that he truly intended to sober up, and felt it was likely he was simply waiting for his truck to cool off. Had the keys been out of the ignition, and had he been in the back seat, it’s possible the case would have gone differently.

Circumstances like these illustrate why it’s so important to have an experienced impaired driving defense lawyer; you need someone who understands the nuances of Canadian law. For those wondering how safe it is to drink in your broken-down truck, you now have a better idea; care and control is ambiguous, and you should avoid drinking any alcohol in a vehicle.