The majority of Toronto-area drivers know that driving while under the influence (DUI) of alcohol is illegal, but not everyone understands why a seemingly victimless crime is treated so harshly by the government. While most people understand that drunk drivers are responsible for a disproportionate number of traffic accidents and fatalities, some question why anyone should be punished without actually first causing them.
This is a fair question, especially when you consider that far more people are arrested for driving under the influence in a given year in Ontario than are involved in a traffic accident caused by a drunk driver or killed by a drunk driver. For example, impaired drivers were responsible for 1,902 Ontario motor vehicle collisions in 2017 and 208 people were killed in collisions involving impaired (alcohol and/or drugs) drivers. Meanwhile, according to analysis of Statistics Canada data, more than 20,000 people were arrested for impaired driving-related offences in Ontario during the year. Thus, it could be argued that roughly 18,000 people were arrested for DUI absent causing any harm to the public.
Impaired Driving Akin to Threatening the Public with a Gun
While those 18,000 or so drivers arrested for impaired driving in 2107 may not have caused any actual harm to the public, by driving impaired they represented a clear and distinct threat to the public. And much like the penalties for threatening the public with a gun are severe, lawmakers consider the threat from impaired driving to be equally egregious. Thus, the harsh penalties for impaired driving, even in the absent of any harm done. The crime may—in most cases—be victimless, but the threat posed by impaired drivers is very real.
Impaired Driving Threat Due to Alcohol Effects on the Brain
Getting behind the wheel while impaired inherently causes the threat due to alcohol's profound effect on the brain and on one's ability to drive safely. These effects can be so debilitating that traffic safety experts would agree that an impaired driver represents bullets in a loaded gun being brandished about in public, as represented by the motor vehicle. The trigger, as represented by an accident, might not get pulled, but the finger is on it as soon as the motor vehicle begins moving.
So, how does alcohol affect the brain and how does it impact one's ability to drive safely?
Well, lets consider what alcohol does to the brain first. Alcohol is a depressant that slows the functioning of the central nervous system and releases endorphins that help people feel more relaxed, less stressed, and more sociable. Sure, those endorphins and relaxed central nervous system helps you feel good, but that buzz is also interfering with the brain's communication pathways and your brain's ability to process information. And the more you drink, the more incapacitating that interference.
The Stages of Intoxication and Potential Impact on Driving Ability
When you drink alcohol, it is quickly absorbed into your bloodstream via the lining of your stomach. The bloodstream spreads the alcohol throughout your body, with it reaching the brain within five minutes of consumption. Alcohol's intoxicating impacts start to take hold when intake exceeds the liver's ability to metabolize and break it down.
Researchers have broken down the stages of alcohol's effects based on blood alcohol concentrations (BAC), which in turn can be highly variable due to body weight, gender, metabolization rate, amount of food in stomach, and other factors. In general, though, 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol will raise your BAC anywhere from .01% to .03%. Note that the legal BAC threshold for impaired driving in Ontario is .08%. For clarification, 0.6% ounces of alcohol is generally equivalent to:
- 12 fluid ounces of regular strength (5%) beer.
- Eight to nine ounces of regular strength (8%) malt liquor.
- Five fluid ounces of table wine (12%).
- 1.5 fluid ounces of distilled spirts (40%).
The stages of alcohol intoxication emerge with rising BAC levels and symptoms of each may remain present through the subsequent rise of BAC levels. The stages and their potential impact on driving ability are as follows:
- BAC between .01% and .05%, subliminal intoxication — considered the first stage of intoxication, most people display no obvious effects, though reactions and judgement may be slightly dulled. Potential driving ability impacts — slight decline in tracking of moving targets and ability to multitask.
- BAC between .03% and 0.10%, Euphoria — with a distinctive release from the brain of more endorphins, relaxation and a feeling of confidence become more pronounced. However, impairment to memory and ability to conduct rational thinking starts to come into play. Potential driving ability impacts — at .05%, further reduction in ability to track objects, reduced coordination, reduced response to emergency reactions, and possible difficulty steering. At .08%, reduced concentration, speed control difficulties, reduced information processing, and impaired perception. At .10%, reduced ability to brake properly and maintain position in driving lanes.
- BAC between .09% and .25%, excitement — This stage of intoxication impacts the brain's occipital, temporal, parietal, and frontal lobes with an inevitable further negative impact to the senses and motor skills depending on the body's response to, and metabolism of, the alcohol. During this stage effects can include blurred vision, slurred speech, compromised hearing, decline in motor skills, and significant decline in the ability to process information. The upper levels of this stage are marked by noticeable mood swings and potential nausea and vomiting. Potential driving ability impacts —starting at the .15% level, there is typically a further significant decline in driving task attention, decline in visual and auditory information processing and substantial and growing impairment in vehicle control abilities.
- BAC anywhere between .18% and .30, confusion — at some point the BAC level at this stage of intoxication will begin taking a significant (and further) toll on coordination, as well as short-term memory. Walking may become difficult and your ability to remember your activities during this stage may be compromised. Potential driving ability impacts — your ability to safely drive a motor vehicle is beyond impaired during this stage and entering the realm of impossible, especially within the higher BAC levels.
- BAC above .35%, coma — At this stage of intoxication most people are at a point at which they risk going into a coma due to compromised respiratory, circulatory, and central nervous systems. Potential driving ability impacts — few people retain the motor skills needed to even start a car in this stage.
- BAC above .45%, death — alcohol poisoning and the brain's inability to control vital functions typically results in death. Potential driving ability impacts — there is almost zero percent chance that you could possibly drive.
Improve Your Chances of Winning Your Ontario DUI Case by Consulting with TorontoDUI
While the DUI lawyers at TorontoDUI trust that our informative blog will make you think twice before getting behind the wheel after having a couple of drinks, everyone is prone to making errors in judgment and we stand ready to help you make sure that the impacts of such an error are not compounded by onerous legal penalties. We rely on a wide range of DUI case-winning strategies that have proven highly effective and have established a solid record of helping those charged with DUI in Ontario win their cases or otherwise secure a favorable outcome. If you or someone you know has been charged with DUI or related offences in the GTA, contact the highly skilled lawyers at TorontoDUI for a free consultation.