Can you be guilty of "driving under the influence" without actually driving?

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It is safe to assume that most Pennsylvania drivers realize that it is illegal to drive under the influence of alcohol. But some of the details and workings of the Pennsylvania statute may surprise you. For example, while the crime is called “Driving Under the Influence,” you can actually commit the crime without doing any driving. The statute forbids drivers from being in “actual physical control” of a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Pennsylvania courts have determined that a driver is in actual physical control of a vehicle stopped or parked on the side of the road, either running or with the keys in the ignition.

Furthermore, while most Pennsylvanians might assume that only those on the road are subject to arrest for Driving Under the Influence, the statute makes it a crime to exercise control over a vehicle in a “trafficway” while under the influence. Our courts have held that parking lots subject to public use are trafficways, even if the lots are posted with “private” signs. Even where access to a private lot is restricted, but the lot is used by tenants, delivery persons, visitors, and other members of the general public, the lot qualifies as a public trafficway if users are entitled to an expectation that others will drive safely. Public parking lots, like those that serve businesses, restaurants, malls, and other places generally held open to the public, are considered trafficways, as well.

To convict a driver of Driving Under the Influence, a prosecutor must be able to show that the driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs to a degree that he or she was incapable of safe driving, or must be able to show that the driver had a blood-alcohol content of .1% or greater at the time of his or her control of the vehicle. While it is risky to do any driving after drinking, the mere presence of alcohol in your blood is not enough to create liability for the crime.

Drivers found asleep in their cars by the roadside or in public parking lots are vulnerable to arrest and conviction for Driving Under the Influence. If you find that you have consumed more alcohol than is safe, do not go out to your car to “sleep it off.” If you have no other choice, be sure to leave your keys with someone else and do not place yourself behind the wheel. Never move your car at all if you might be under the influence, even within a parking lot.

The public dangers posed by driving under the influence are serious. The Pennsylvania statute is designed to penalize anyone who handles a car when it is not safe to do so.