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What Does Drunk While in Charge of a Vehicle Mean?

The person is in control of the vehicle - which might mean something as innocent as asleep in the seat with keys close by.

When it comes to attending events where you may consume alcohol, most people like to work out their plans for getting home in advance, be it sticking within their legal drink limit to drive home, catching an Uber or getting a lift with a friend.

But even the best-laid plans can go awry once alcohol is involved; in an attempt to not do anything illegal once consuming a few too many, you may have considered sleeping in your car and driving home the next day. But, what does the law say about this?

We share what you need to know below if you want to avoid being drunk and in charge of a vehicle.


What Does it Mean to Be in Charge of a Vehicle?

Section 79 of the Transport Operations (Road Use Management) Act 1995 (Qld) (TORUM Act) doesn’t explicitly define what it means to be in charge of a vehicle. A general meaning, however, is that the person is in control of the vehicle – which might mean something as innocent as asleep in the seat with keys close by.

If you are caught doing something as simple as opening your car door to retrieve something while intoxicated, the police may find it sufficient to charge you with being drunk while in control of the vehicle.


What Can You Be Charged With If Found Drunk & In Charge of a Vehicle?

If you are found drunk and in your vehicle, section 79 of the TORUM Act outlines the main offences that you may be charged with.

These offences are:

  • driving with ANY alcohol content while:
    • under 25 and not holding an open licence
    • driving various special vehicles such as a truck, bus, taxi, limousine, tow truck, pilot vehicle or driver training vehicle;
  • driving pursuant to a restricted licence or a replacement licence;
  • driving while over the general alcohol limit; with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.05 but less than 0.10 (i.e. over the general alcohol limit but under the middle alcohol limit);
  • driving while over the middle alcohol limit: a BAC of 0.10 or more but less than 0.15 (i.e. over the middle alcohol limit but under the high alcohol limit);
  • driving while under the influence of alcohol or any illegal drug. With alcohol, a person is conclusively presumed to be under the influence if their blood alcohol concentration is 0.15 or more (i.e. more than 150 mg of alcohol in 100 mL of blood or 0.150 g of alcohol in 210 L of breath);
  • driving while a relevant drug is present in the blood or saliva: relevant drugs are delta-9-tetra-hydrocannabinol (cannabis), methylamphetamine (speed and ice) and 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (ecstasy) (reg 172 Traffic Regulation 1962 (Qld)). Any amount of drug detected is sufficient to constitute the offence;
  • failure to provide a breath specimen.


Can I be Charged with Being Drunk While on a Bicycle or Electric Scooter?

Even though you don’t need a driver’s licence to ride a bike or electric scooter, Queensland’s traffic legislation is broad, and you may still be charged with “drunk riding”. While penalties may differ, similar laws also apply to a person in charge of an animal or other vehicle while drunk or under the influence of drugs.


What is a Defence to Being Drunk While in charge of a Vehicle?

There are a number of defences available to you if charged with being drunk while in charge of a vehicle. Section 79(6) of the TORUM Act stipulates what constitutes a defence.

It must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt that a person;

  • had manifested an intention not to drive by either not being in the driving compartment at the time or by some action while outside the vehicle (e.g. having told others of their intention or giving the keys to another person);
  • was not so affected by alcohol or drugs as to be incapable of understanding what they were doing or of forming an intention not to drive;
  • had parked the vehicle in a way that was not dangerous to other people or traffic;
  • had not been convicted in the last year of any alcohol-related or drug-related driving offence.

This means if you are planning to retrieve an item from your car, or even to sleep in the car, it is best to communicate this intention to others.

In addition, ensure your car is parked in a safe location, do not move your vehicle once you’ve commenced drinking, and do not sleep in the driver’s seat.


Charged With Being Drunk While In Charge of a Vehicle?

Traffic offences are treated seriously in Queensland. If you knowingly drink then drive and are stopped by the police, or you innocently sleep in your car while drunk and are charged by the police with being drunk and in charge of a vehicle, seek legal advice from an experienced traffic lawyer to find out where you stand. We invite you to get in touch to speak to one of our traffic lawyers today.