LEGAL BRIEFING - Car not the best place to sober up


Dear John, The other night, I went to a bar and had a few too many. When I got into my car, I realized from the difficulty I had putting the keys into the ignition that I was in no condition to drive. Rather than risk putting my life and the lives of others in jeopardy, I decided to sleep it off in my car. Can I be arrested for that?


Drunk Dan

I think most of us agree that tough drunken driving laws are a good thing. No one wants to hear about someone being injured or killed because of this unnecessary act. I applaud you for choosing the lesser of two wrongs the other night.

The law does not limit itself solely to driving while under the influence. A person can be found guilty for being in physical control of a vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or any drug. The definition of "physical control" includes not just driving, but also such things as sitting behind the wheel with possession of the keys or as you suggest, "sleeping it off in my car."

I am not going to suggest you deny yourself the lawful use of alcohol. However, I would urge you to plan ahead so that you have arranged for a designated driver, or can walk home and retrieve your car when you are sober. With the decreasing temperatures at night this time of year, sleeping in a parked car, especially when drunk, is potentially dangerous. Hypothermia can be fatal. A little planning can prevent a lot of hardship.



John Hartzell is a practicing Walla Walla attorney. No attorney-client relationship is established via this column, which is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Any information given is to illustrate basic legal concepts and does not state how any court would decide any matter. Have a question? Ask John at

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