Taking particular Care to Drive Sober over the Holidays

Posted by Injury Lawyers of Ontario on December 20, 2016

This is the season to celebrate with family, friends and co-workers, and alcohol typically plays a role in many events and parties. For this reason, the holiday season unfortunately also presents a heightened risk of car accidents and serious injury, due to impaired driving.

Despite warnings and stricter drinking-and-driving legislation, many Canadians sometimes drive while intoxicated, particularly over the holidays. However, we can all make the roads safer for everyone by adopting simple prudent behaviours, which may at times be less convenient, but will substantially reduce the risk of being involved in an alcohol-related accident that may result in life-changing injuries.

Take the following actions if you are attending a holiday party.

  1. Remember to designate a non-drinking driver before you leave for the party.

  2. Program a friend’s number or a local taxi service into your phone in case you don’t have a designated driver or the designated driver slips up during the party.

  3. Under no circumstances, get into a car with a driver who has been drinking.

  4. Be aware of the amount of alcohol you are consuming from mixed drinks, particularly at house parties, as you may have consumed far more than you realize.

  5. Appropriately adjust your drinking if you are taking any type of medication, including cold/flu medicine, that may intensify the effects of alcohol or create health risks.

  6. Do not drive early in the morning if you drank heavily the night before. It is a misconception that simply sleeping off a night of heavy drinking means that you are completely sober the next morning. In many cases, a person is still impaired the morning after a night of heavy drinking.

  7. Call the police if you observe someone driving while impaired.

Hosting a Holiday Party:

If you are hosting a holiday party, ensure that your guests have a safe way of getting home.

  1. Confirm with your guests that they have a plan to get home safely if they plan on drinking.

  2. Consider including party activities that do not involve alcohol but will keep guests engaged, such as games and contests.

  3. Keep the phone number of a taxi service or ride sharing program at hand.

  4. Serve food to ensure guests are not drinking on an empty stomach.

  5. Provide non-alcoholic drink alternatives.

  6. Never serve minors alcohol or ask them to serve alcohol to guests at the party.

  7. Prevent any inebriated guests from leaving and driving home.

  8. Make arrangements for any guests who may need to sleep over.

It is not always easy to deter someone from driving while impaired, but here are a few tips to prevent an inebriated guest from getting behind the wheel:

  • Suggest an alternate way of getting home

  • Suggest they sleep over

  • Talk calmly and slowly, and explain that you are trying to help because you care about their safety

  • Ask a friend to assist and act as backup. Having more than one person present will increase the likelihood of their being receptive to what you’re saying.

  • Hide their keys

  • If all else fails, call the police to deter them.

Ensuring that your guests do not become too inebriated and drive home is important not only for their safety, but also for your own legal protection. Social host liability asks the question, “is the host of a party (and owner of the home) legally responsible for the guest’s subsequent injuries if they drive away drunk”?  This issue pertains to a host's  legal “duty of care” to his/her guests.  If a host willingly over-serves alcohol to their guests and knowingly allows a clearly impaired driver to get behind the wheel, they may be found liable for any injuries that result from a guest's alcohol use.  Similarly, if you serve alcohol to a minor, you may be held liable.

The latter was a factor in a 2013 civil action. The defendants in the case allowed their teenage daughter to host a graduation party for her classmates, at their cottage. One of the guests was the plaintiff, who left the party with another guest, in the early hours of the morning. Both guests were intoxicated, and the host and her parents were aware of their condition.  On route from the party, the plaintiff lost control of her vehicle and suffered a catastrophic brain injury. The defendants brought a motion for summary judgement to dismiss the case, which was denied, largely because all the guests at the party were under the age of 19. The motions judge noted the “special vulnerability” of young people who attend a party, at the premises of adults, where alcohol is consumed.

A devastating injury resulting from a drunk driving accident often results from a error in judgement that could easily have been avoided.   We wish everyone a happy and festive holiday season, but if you drink or provide alcohol to guests, please do so responsibly.

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