DUI Without the Car On!

Everyone knows that you can’t drive drunk. If you’ve had too much too drink (or you’re even borderline), you should find another way home.

But did you know that you can be convicted of Virginia DUI without even having your car ON?

Yep. And it’s a fairly radical change in the law.

Virginia law has long prohibited “operating” an engine under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The basic rule (as I understand it) used to be that a vehicle ignition had to be turned at least one click, so the defendant was operating the electrical system of the car.

But the Virginia Supreme Court just ruled that “operating” a vehicle includes sitting behind the wheel with the keys in the ignition. Period. Now it doesn’t matter if the ignition is turned at all.

Scarily, the rule is even broader than that. The Court ruled that “any individual who is in actual physical control of a vehicle is an ‘operator.'”

Where’s the line now? It seems like we’re punishing people before they’ve even committed a crime. Can you say Minority Report?

I can see aggressive law enforcement and prosecutors going after folks who are simply standing outside the driver’s door of the vehicle with their keys in hand. After all, they’re just a few seconds away from getting behind the wheel and endangering people.

What about someone who’s nowhere near the vehicle but has a remote starter? He can “operate” his car anytime he’s within range of the starter.

How about keyless ignitions? I’ll bet some folks will come out of a bar after having too many and hop in to the driver’s seat to WAIT for a cab or friend to pick them up. If their keys are in their pocket, they have physical control of the car even though they are making the safe and responsible choice.

I certainly hope the Court reconsiders this rule.

Photo by iampeas

Andrew Flusche

My name is Andrew Flusche. I am a traffic and misdemeanor defense lawyer in Virginia. I limit my practice to traffic tickets and misdemeanor defense, so I know the ins and outs of these offenses. I literally wrote the book on reckless driving in Virginia which you can get on Amazon here or download for free here. I opened my practice in 2008 after earning my Juris Doctor degree from the University of Virginia School of Law. Since then, I have earned over 600 5-star reviews from happy clients on Google, Yelp, and Facebook. If you’ve been charged with a misdemeanor offense in Virginia, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Your initial consultation is always free, and you'll talk directly with me about the details of your case.

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