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In an article published in The Bellingham Herald, columnist Doug Dahl of The Wise Drive wrote, “I’m no lawyer, but if you are impaired, you’re in a car, and you have keys to start the car, you’re probably guilty of physical control.” Dahl explained that under certain types of DUI laws, merely being in physical control of a vehicle is enough to be charged with DUI. Is Dahl right?

DUI while merely being in physical control of a motor vehicle 

In states like Pennsylvania, being in physical control of a vehicle while under the influence is enough to support a conviction for drunk driving. The detail that Dahl missed is that, in some states, you have to be doing more than sleeping in the backseat of a car with the car keys in your possession to be in physical control of a vehicle under the law. In Banner vs. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court said that the evidence must show that the driver was more than just merely asleep in their car to be convicted of DUI. In Banner’s case, the car was off, the headlights were off, the keys were not in the ignition, the alleged driver was asleep in the backseat, and there was nothing else offered by the police that showed that Banner had operated or controlled the car. So, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed the DUI conviction.

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Is it always illegal to sleep it off in your car if you are under the influence? | Burak The Weekender (Pexels.com)

What should a driver do if they had too much to drink and can’t drive?

  • In a best-case scenario, the driver would be able to get a ride home with a friend, Uber/Lyft/legal jitney or cab
  • If that’s not possible, the driver should find a hotel to stay in until they are safe to drive.
  • If no rooms are available, the driver should go to an open business and ask an employee if they can call for a taxi or other ride.
  • If a driver has exhausted all of those options, it is always better to sleep it off or wait in the backseat of the car until they can drive safely. If a driver has to choose between driving while under the influence or sleeping in the back of their car, the better option is always to sleep in the back of the car. DUI isn’t just something that can get someone arrested; it can endanger lives. Any experienced DUI lawyer would prefer to fight a DUI case where the driver was asleep in the back of the car with the car completely off and the keys out of an ignition than a driver who got behind the wheel and tried to drive while intoxicated.