Understand the Differences Between Impaired Driving and Dangerous Driving

Impaired driving and dangerous driving are offences punishable under the Criminal Code of Canada. Both offences allege or contain an aspect of conduct that potentially endangers the life of the accused and others around the accused, including passengers, pedestrians and other motorists. In addition to fines and possible jail terms, the offences result in a driver’s licence suspension for at least one year (or longer for second and third offences) throughout Canada (and possibly non-Canadian jurisdictions). Rod Gregory is an expert criminal defence lawyer in Edmonton who is very knowledgeable with provincial driving laws and can explain the circumstances behind impaired driving and driving under the influence of alcohol.

Legal Definitions

Impaired driving is the act of care, control or operation of a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs to the extent that mental and motor skills are impaired. The offences of impaired driving fall into one of the following categories:

  • Operating a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol level in excess of 80 mg per 100 ml of blood (also causing bodily harm and causing death);
  • Impaired operation of a motor vehicle;
  • Impaired operation of a motor vehicle causing bodily harm;
  • Impaired operation of a motor vehicle causing death; or
  • Refusal to provide a breath or blood sample.

Dangerous driving is defined broadly under section 249(1)(a) and (b) of the Criminal Code. Dangerous driving constitutes something less than criminal negligence, but also something more than mere inattention. Not every motor vehicle accident constitutes dangerous driving. Erratic driving, speed or driving resulting in an accident may or may not constitute dangerous driving depending on the circumstances. Dangerous driving entails operating a motor vehicle in a way that is dangerous to the public, having regard to all the circumstances, including the:

  • Nature, condition, and use of the place where the vehicle is being operated; and
  • Amount of traffic at the time or may be reasonably expected.

Dangerous driving can also entail the same criteria when operating a vessel or any water skis, surf-board, water sled over international waters of Canada or a territorial seas of Canada. Though an argument can be made that impaired driving is evidence of dangerous driving, a dangerous driving charge is not necessarily laid in conjunction with an impaired driving charge. Nor is impaired driving necessarily dangerous. A situation where both charges could be laid is where a person driving under the influence of alcohol refuses to stop for an officer and then engages in high speed driving to escape criminal liability. Each situation is considered unique and separately as no two situations are exactly the same.

Evidence Supporting an Impaired Driving Charge

If a police officer has reasonable grounds to suspect that a person is driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs and has likely operated a motor vehicle within the preceding three hours, a police officer may make breath demands or conduct sobriety tests. Evidence of poor driving and indications of impairments include:

  • Physical coordination tests that show difficulty in walking;
  • Standing or turning;
  • Slurred speech;
  • Glassy, bloodshot eyes and dilated pupils;
  • Odour of an alcoholic beverage or drugs; or
  • Flushed face.

A police officer may make a breath demand to determine your Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) if the officer complies with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms requirements that protect individuals.

A police officer who has a reasonable suspicion that a person has alcohol in their body may make a breath demand for a roadside screening test. There is no right to counsel at this stage of an investigation. A person may be charged with refusal for failing to provide a breath sample in the face of a lawful demand for a roadside breath test.

Intoxilyzers and other breath instruments are instruments used at police stations to analyze the specific quantity of alcohol in your breath. These scientific tests can be subject to scrutiny, however, including due to improper calibration, interfering compounds, homeostatic variables, and mouth alcohol interference, including the inability to detect recent consumption not absorbed in the blood. If you refuse to take a breath test when requested to do so by an officer, you could still be charged with impaired driving and also refusal to provide a breath sample. Offering to provide a blood sample is not a defence to refusing to provide a breath sample. There are defences or lawful excuses to refusing to provide a breath sample, for example: a pre-existing medically condition preventing you from providing an adequate sample of your breath, or an unlawful or invalid demand.

Driving under the 0.8 percent BAC limit does not mean charges the police are precluded from laying charges. The combination of alcohol and fatigue may constitute impaired driving. You may also be charged with impaired driving if the police have reasonable and probable grounds to believe that you are impaired by a drug.

The police may also make observations of impairment: reduced reaction time, slurred speech, problems with balance, and bad driving. An “over 80” charge can also be laid instead of an impaired driving charge where a BAC reading is higher than 0.8 percent even if the police do not observe obvious signs of impairment. An extreme example is where an alcoholic blows two to three times over the legal limit but there are no observable signs of impairment.

Evidence Supporting a Dangerous Driving Offence

For dangerous driving convictions, the court is required to consider the criteria mentioned above in section 249(1)(a) and (b) of the Criminal Code. There are situations where a person may be charged with dangerous driving. These include driving too fast or too aggressively, ignoring traffic lights, road signs or warnings from passengers, overtaking other vehicles in a dangerous manner, street racing, driving when unfit or injured, and knowing the vehicle has a dangerous fault or an unsafe load. The police may lay a charge of dangerous driving where there is an accident, but an accident is not a prerequisite to the police laying the charge. Each case is considered on its own merits, with consideration given to whether an accident occurred and if there were any passengers with you.

License Reinstatement

If you are convicted of a DUI or impaired driving offence, you must complete a remedial program of one of two courses through the Alberta Driving Program if you live in Edmonton and area, or in a Driving Program in the province that you reside in. To obtain driving privileges after all license reinstatement conditions have been met, you will be required to install an ignition interlock on your vehicle to monitor your driving pattern and prevent any further impaired driving/DUI conduct. The device requires the driver to blow into it before starting the car and if any alcohol is detected, the car will not start. The device will record all attempts to drive with alcohol in your system, which can disqualify you from the program. Those convicted of dangerous driving are not eligible for the ignition interlock program.

If you drive while subject to a court ordered prohibition (drive while disqualified, s. 259 Criminal Code) you could be convicted of drive while disqualified. If convicted of this offence, you will receive a mandatory consecutive driving prohibition and will most likely receive a term of incarceration. Your vehicle could be seized and impounded for 30 to 60 days.

Rod Gregory is Your Expert Impaired Driving Lawyer in Edmonton and Surrounding Areas

If you need a lawyer to help you with an impaired driving or dangerous driving charge, consult with him today. He has worked on impaired and dangerous driving cases in Edmonton, Fort McMurray, Grand Prairie, and the surrounding areas in Western Canada. Identifying your impaired or dangerous driving charges and arrest is imperative to your case. Rod Gregory can represent you in your case by providing comprehensive advice for a strong defence.