What does it mean to drive impaired?

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Impaired driving typically relates to operating a vehicle after drinking alcohol or taking drugs. For example, some states define impaired driving as driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or drugs while other states define it as driving while intoxicated(DWI) by alcohol or drugs. North Carolina statutes take a slightly different approach when defining drunk driving and drugged driving, which North Carolina refers to as Driving While Impaired.

Impaired Driving Defined by North Carolina Laws

Under N.C.G.S. §20-138.1, a person is guilty of impaired driving when that person:

1.  Operates a vehicle on any highway, street, or public vehicular area; and

2.  Is under the influence of an impairing substance; or

3.  Has an alcohol concentration of 0.08 (0.04 for commercial vehicles) or more after consuming sufficient alcohol; or,

4.  Has any amount of a Schedule I controlled substance (i.e. PCP or heroin), as listed in G.S. 90-89, or its metabolites in his blood or urine.

This code section provides the elements that the state must prove in order to convict a person of DWI in North Carolina.

Vehicle – The above statute requires that the defendant was operating a vehicle at the time of the arrest for impaired driving. North Carolina DWI laws do not limit the term “vehicle” to only mean a motor vehicle such as a car, truck, or motorcycle. Vehicles may also include bicycles, lawnmowers, scooters, and other types of vehicles. The term “vehicle” is much broader than most people assume.

Operating – Just as with the term “vehicle,” the term “operating” has a much broader definition when related to impaired driving charges. Obviously, if you are driving your vehicle, you are operating the vehicle; however, if you are sitting behind the wheel of a vehicle that stopped but still has the keys in the ignition and some of the vehicle systems turned on, you could be charged with and convicted of impaired driving. The expansion of the term “operating” as it relates to DWI confuses many defendants because they assume they cannot be convicted of impaired driving if they stop the vehicle and put it in park.  Note also that the police don’t have to actually see somebody operating, only be able to prove to the court that they were, in fact, operating the vehicle while they were impaired.

Highway, Street, Or Public Vehicular Area – Highways and streets are easy to define; however, what is a public vehicular area (PVA)? A PVA includes any public space such as the mall parking lot, the gas station, the drive-thru at a fast food restaurant, or any other location that is generally open to use by vehicular traffic. In other words, you can be charged with impaired driving if you come out of a restaurant at the mall where you have been drinking and back your vehicle out of the parking space to leave.  Private property can still be considered a public vehicular area.

Impairment – The state must prove that the driver was impaired at the time of the DWI arrest.  In most cases, the prosecution can seek to prove impairment under either of two definitions of impairment.  The first, commonly called the “per se definition”, applies when the defendant is shown to have had a BAC of 0.08% or more (above the legal limit), or to have some amount of a Schedule I controlled substance in their system.  The second is usually called the “appreciable impairment definition” and refers to cases where the State seeks to prove that the defendant’s mental or physical faculties were “appreciably” (or “noticeably”) impaired by some sort of impairing substance, regardless of their blood alcohol content.

It is extremely important that you contact our office immediately if you have been arrested for impaired driving. Your freedom and your future are at risk.