Section 253(1)(a) of the Criminal Code makes it an offence to operate a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol or a drug. It is also an offence to have care or control of a motor vehicle while impaired, even if the vehicle is not in motion.
Impairment refers to a lessened ability to operate a motor vehicle. There is no special test in the Criminal Code for determining impairment. If the evidence shows any level of impairment, a driver may be charged under section 253(1)(a).
Evidence of impairment may include the smell of alcohol, bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, difficulty walking, and belligerence. Bad driving may also be a symptom of impairment, but ultimately this offence is about a person’s ability to drive rather than the quality of their driving. If there is evidence of impairment, it does not matter if an impaired driver is driving well and following all the rules of the road.
A drug can be any substance causing impairment, whether illegal or not. It is possible to be impaired by legal substances (such as the fumes from certain chemicals) or by prescription drugs ordered by a doctor. This does not mean it is illegal to drive while taking prescription drugs, but it is illegal to drive if impaired by those drugs.
It is not necessary to be able to determine the drug used, or to be able to determine whether it is a drug or alcohol causing impairment; it is only necessary to show impairment. Impaired driving may be found even if the impairment is partly caused by a drug or alcohol and partly by fatigue.
Care or control of a vehicle is a complicated concept, but basically refers to the risk that a vehicle will be put in motion. Occupying a position needed to operate the vehicle is sometimes enough to show care or control of the vehicle (for example, sitting in the driver’s seat of a car). Usually there must also be an intention to set the vehicle in motion, but this may not be the case if certain actions are taken that could lead to the vehicle unintentionally being set in motion (for example, turning on the ignition to listen to the radio or stay warm). Care or control may also be found when a person has the means and immediate capacity to operate the vehicle (for example, being in the vehicle with the keys).
Disclaimer: this article is for information purposes only and is not legal advice. For legal advice, contact Matt Gould now to discuss your case.