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Can you be charged with DUI if you weren’t even driving?

On Behalf of | Mar 28, 2024 | Drunk Driving

Under Virginia law, you can be charged with driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol even if you aren’t actually driving a vehicle.

How does that make sense? It all has to do with the state law. According to Virginia Code § 18.2-266, it’s illegal to either “driver or operate” a vehicle with a blood alcohol content (BAC) level of .08% or more, and the definition of what it means to “operate” one is pretty broad. Any action that puts you in physical control of a vehicle also puts you in a legal hot seat. 

What does this mean in practice?

Usually, this part of the law trips people up the most when they’re trying to be responsible. They may realize that they’ve had a few drinks too many and decide to settle into their car for a nap while they sober up. 

Unfortunately for them, merely sitting in the car with your key in the ignition to run the heat or A/C is enough to warrant a criminal charge. This is true whether they’re parked in a private lot or sitting at the side of the road. In other words, you could be charged with drunk driving just for getting in your car for safety while you wait on the Uber you called to get home, or while trying to stay warm on a cold night.

It’s important to understand that you should never count on the police to be understanding about your situation. If you find yourself staring into an officer’s flashlight after you decided to sleep a buzz off in your car, exert your right to remain silent. If you do end up facing charges, you’ll be a step ahead in your defense.


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