Can I Get Charged With DWI Even Though I Was Not Driving My Car?

Can I Get Charged With DWI Even Though I Was Not Driving My Car?

News stories regularly emerge featuring people who get charged with Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) when they’re in a vehicle that isn’t moving.  Sometimes they catch the notice of police because they happen to fall asleep in a car that’s parked improperly.  For instance, in NY state a man was recently arrested after being found asleep in his car, parked with the engine still running, in a drive-thru lane at a McDonald’s; the police woke him up, tested him for alcohol intoxication, and then arrested him.

But even if you don’t park your car in a way that obstructs traffic, you may still get arrested for DWI if the police discover you.  Your engine may be off, you may be trying to sleep off the effects of the alcohol, but nevertheless you’ll be in danger of a DWI charge.

How can that be? The common perception of DWI is that it applies to people who are actually operating the vehicle as they’re intoxicated, putting themselves and others in danger on the road.  If the vehicle isn’t even moving, and the car is properly parked along the curb or in a parking lot, what’s the danger? Why might they get arrested?

Under the law in Texas, and in other states, the definition of ‘operating a vehicle’ encompasses a broader range of actions than simply driving.  If the car is securely parked, but the engine is still running, that may constitute operating a vehicle.  Likewise, if the headlights are on or the radio is playing, that could be construed as a vehicle getting put to use by a person who’s intoxicated.

You also have to take into account what any witnesses might say.  For instance, if a driver pulls into a parking lot, and weaves around and drives unstably under the influence, but then manages to park successfully and turn off the car, witnesses may still call the police on them. And even if the driver never intended to go any further, but to instead stop and sleep off the alcohol first, they could still get charged; they don’t need to be caught by the police immediately in the act of driving or only after having caused damage or injury.

So keep this information in mind.  Even if you intend to be responsible, and to only slip into your car to rest for a while, you could still be in danger of a DWI charge. If you do find yourself facing such a situation, don’t hesitate to contact an attorney who can advocate for you in court and decrease the chances that you’ll get fined, jailed, or experience a loss of your driver’s license.

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