Is Impaired Driving a Criminal Offense?
Driving a motor vehicle under the influence of either alcohol or narcotics is a very serious issue both from a legal standpoint and from a safety perspective. Intoxicated motorists create genuine road risks to both themselves and other drivers. The real public safety concerns accompanying drunk driving incidents have understandably resulted in a strong public policy response that may affect you.
If you are caught driving under the influence, one of the most common punishments is a 24-hour driving prohibition. Under Section 215 of the Motor Vehicle Act, a law enforcement officer can issue a 24-hour driving prohibition for driving either while adversely affected by alcohol or drugs. The 24-hour driving prohibition is exactly what it sounds like: violators must forfeit their right to drive a motor vehicle for the next 24 hours. That said, a 24-hour prohibition carries other consequences
While impaired driving is not as egregious of a criminal offense as stealing or assault, impaired driving is still a very serious offense in British Columbia. Compared to other provinces in Canada, British Columbia’s impaired driving laws are some of the toughest in the land. Anyone who has been drinking should always think twice before operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of either alcohol or illegal drugs.
What Is Considered Criminal “Impaired Driving”
Driving while impaired is a criminal offense where the driver of a vehicle is driving while under the influence of some type of external mental impairment. The most common form of criminal impaired driving is driving while under the influence of alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant that causes blurred vision and reduced reaction times. People who drive while highly inebriated are particularly dangerous on the roads because their perception of other drivers and the road itself is often skewed.
Other forms of impairment can also be punished criminally. For example, driving under the influence of narcotics such as marijuana or more serious drugs such as cocaine, heroin, or hallucinogens can result in criminal impaired driving violations. Similarly, abuse of prescription medications can result in mental impairment that can also be punished criminally. However, simply driving while tired or driving while stressed are not considered “impaired driving.”
The Societal Costs of Impaired Driving
Deaths related to impaired driving are considered to be a very serious public health crisis. While drinking at parties with friends is a normal social experience, it is easy to overlook the real costs of an inebriated person’s failure to abstain from driving.
In British Columbia, more than sixty deaths are attributable to impaired driving accidents. Such fatalities account for roughly 25% of all motor vehicle accident fatalities. The majority of those deaths occur in summer months; however, a large portions of deaths also occur during the holiday season. Impaired driving incidents also occur more often on weekends and Fridays during the night time.
The sad reality is that each and every annual impaired driving fatality is preventable. Given proper planning and common sense, no one should ever need to drive while intoxicated.
The Personal Costs of a Criminal Impaired Driving Offense
One of the most common impaired driving punishments is a 24-hour driving suspension, which can include a vehicle impoundment. As the name implies, a 24-hour driving suspension results in the termination of the offender’s driving privileges becoming revoked for a 24 hour period. Such a suspension may not seem too terrible of a punishment, but it can become extremely inconvenient in many circumstances. This is particularly true for motorists that have lengthy commutes to work every day.
In addition to the standard driving suspension, fines can also be levied against offenders. The amount of fines can range from $600-$4000, which is far greater than the cost of hiring a taxi or ride sharing service. Additionally, those who drive impaired will accumulate driver penalty points and may receive time in jail.
The Cost of Being a Repeat Offender
The British Columbia government believes that repeat offenders of impaired driving violations are a particularly dangerous roadway menace. As a result, the Driver Improvement Program was established as a type of government intervention into dangerous impaired driving behavior patterns. Repeat offenders are subjected to this rehabilitation program to force drivers who are constantly impaired while driving to alter their behavior.
Repeat impaired drivers are selected for the program based on either a record of impaired driving convictions or the accumulation of large numbers of driver penalty points. The type of intervention action taken will depend on the severity of one’s driving record. For example, two-time offenders will likely receive warning letters, whereas more regular offenders will be placed on driving probation or will be prohibited from driving altogether. In some cases, repeat offenders may also be asked to attend driver rehabilitation and re-education seminars.
If Drinking, Make Sure to Plan Ahead
The safest way to avoid an impaired driving citation is to plan for a fun night out ahead of time. The gold standard in impaired driving safety is to arrange a designated driver. Not driving after drinking socially is easy if access to a vehicle is not readily available but for the kind services of a pre-arranged designated driver. Alternatively, taxis should be used whenever alcohol consumption has occurred.
es, such as appearing on your driving record that are also important considerations.
The Procedure for Receiving a 24-Hour Alcohol Prohibition
A 24-hour prohibition itself is not a complicated issue to understand, but it can be frustrating to understand the procedure behind the grant of the prohibition. First, when peace officers begin to investigate impaired driving cases, they must have reasonable and probable grounds to believe that alcohol or drugs were involved. A peace officer cannot simply pull anyone off the streets and test for alcohol and drugs. Without that reasonable suspicion, the prohibition can be thrown out on appeal. Even if the peace officer later conducts either a breathalyzer or drug test, that later-provided evidence cannot be used to sustain the initial charge.
The Effect of a 24-Hour Driving Prohibition
As discussed in the introduction, a 24-hour driving prohibition is just that: a prohibition on driving a motor vehicle for the next 24-hours. However, this prohibition can have very serious consequences regardless of how short of a prohibition period it actually is. For some, the prohibition is merely an inconvenience. For others, however, the prohibition means a lot more. Many occupations require regular travel or long commute times. A 24-hour driving prohibition can thus result in the violator having to skip work or lose certain opportunities because he or she was unable to drive at that time. Long haul truckers often require a clean driving record to maintain employment.
Another major consequence of the 24-hour driving prohibition is that it is recorded on your driving record. Having to explain that you are currently on a driving prohibitions may deny you particular career opportunities. Normally, one or two 24-hour driving prohibitions does not create a serious long-term problem. But, for those who have a tendency to drink in excess regularly, multiple 24-hour driving prohibitions could result in additional prohibitions from the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles.
These reasons, and others, are why 24-hour driving prohibitions are so bemoaned by ordinary people. The driving prohibition is not only inconvenient, but it can have real consequences. As a result, appeals of 24-hour prohibitions are not uncommon, and sometimes the prohibitions are overturned.
How Can I Challenge My Prohibition?
If you believe that the prohibition was wrongfully given, you do have rights of appeal. First, you can appeal your 24-hour alcohol prohibition to an adjudicator working for RoadSafetyBC. This type of appeal is not a formal court appeal, but is rather an administrative appeal. If the adjudicator does not agree with your version of events, you can appeal further to a justice of the BC Supreme Court. If your prohibition was given for drug influence, however, your only right of appeal is directly to the BC Supreme Court – there is no intermediate appeal to an adjudicator for drug-related prohibitions.
If you have received a 24-hour driving prohibition, you should contact an experienced criminal lawyer as soon as possible if you want to appeal the prohibition.
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