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Can You Be Charged with DWI If You Weren’t Driving?

Driving while impaired (DWI) is a serious crime in North Carolina. A person may be charged with DWI if any substance affects their ability to drive safely or their blood alcohol content (BAC) is .08 percent or higher. Even a first offense can result in jail time, fines and a lengthy driving license suspension. While many think they must be driving their car to be charged with this offense, there are circumstances where even being in the car while parked constitutes a DWI charge.

The definition of “operating” a vehicle while under the influence is broad. A driver is considered to be operating the car if she or he has “physical control” of the vehicle, which does not require that the vehicle be in motion. A driver is considered to have physical control when seated in the driver’s seat with the engine running.

Drivers who overindulge sometimes choose to “sleep it off” inside their vehicle. Certainly, this is preferable to driving on the roadways while intoxicated. However, staying in the car might still result in a DWI arrest. One might argue that it is safe to sleep in the backseat with the engine off. However, this assumption fails to account for courts interpreting the law as passenger cars evolve. The potential risks and consequences of a DWI conviction are too great. Rather than staying in the vehicle until it is safe for you to drive, it is better to get a ride from a friend or use a ride-sharing service to get home.

The definition of physical control will likely change with advancements in automotive technology. Some modern passenger vehicles do not have conventional power trains. These hybrid cars can move long distances without starting the engine. All-electric cars have no engine at all, only rechargeable batteries. Battery-powered vehicles consume no electric power when stopped; the car defaults to “standby” mode. Therefore, it may be unclear whether a parked hybrid/electric car is “running” for the purposes of a DWI. The state legislature and/or the courts will have to grapple with the legal implications of these technologies as to DWI charges.

If you have been charged with DWI and you weren’t driving, working with an attorney who is experienced with the nuances in these types of cases could make the difference between a positive and a negative outcome.

From his offices in New Bern and Morehead City, North Carolina, attorney Tommy Kellis of Carolina Law Group handles DWI cases. Feel free to contact us online or call 252-636-3737 for an initial consultation.

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