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Sleeping in a Car While Drunk Counts as a DUI in Many States

Published on 06/11/2012 -


Everyone knows that drinking and driving is illegal. In most states, the blood alcohol level that drivers must fall under is .08 percent, and police officers usually have no tolerance for anyone above this threshold.

But fewer people know that it may be illegal to simply be in your car while drunk, even if you’re not operating the vehicle.

Many states, however, criminalize the act of drinking and parking, according to a recent report from Reuters. A local DUI attorney may help you determine whether your state has such a DUI law.

The Worst Kind of DUI

Often, people who recognize they are too drunk to drive, and don’t have enough money to take a taxi home, will make what they believe is a wise decision and simply sleep in their car until they sober up.

While this tactic may seem like a responsible choice (and it certainly is wiser than driving drunk), many states criminalize such behavior.

In many jurisdictions, drivers can be arrested for sitting in a parked car while they are drunk, even if their keys aren’t in the ignition, and they show no signs of preparing to drive away.

This strange reality is due to the narrow, technical language used in many DUI laws. The language of some state statutes extends DUI jurisdiction to non-driving acts, such as the parked car DUI.

For example, in some states, the act of “driving” is defined as “operating a motor vehicle, or having the ability to do so.” In other words, if someone is in a car, he or she technically has the ability to do so, even if it isn’t turned on, or if the person is sleeping.

This may seem like a bizarre distinction, but parked car DUIs happen fairly frequently, as shown by the examples listed below.

Examples of Parked Car DUI Arrests

A few recent criminal cases display the perils of sleeping in a car while drunk. In Brewer v. MVD, the Colorado Supreme Court confirmed the validity of a DUI citation given to a person who was sleeping in the driver’s seat of a car while the engine was running, sources say.

And in State v. Lawrence, the highest court in Tennessee upheld the DUI conviction of a man who was found sleeping in his car with his keys in his pocket.

Finally, a recent case heard by the Montana Supreme Court also upheld the conviction of a driver who was found sleeping while the engine was running.

So, whether the engine is running or not, drunk drivers who fall asleep in their car may be just as culpable as people who drive drunk, at least according to some states’ DUI laws.

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