Can a college night out lead to an OWI, even while the car is already parked?

On Behalf of | May 21, 2024 | Drunk Driving, Owi

College life entails endless nights out with friends, and sometimes those nights involve alcohol. However, what happens if you have a few too many and decide to sleep it off in your car parked at the bar or a friend’s apartment? Believe it or not, you can still get arrested for operating while intoxicated (OWI) even if the car isn’t moving.

The “operating” keyword

Wisconsin’s OWI law hinges on the concept of “operating” a motor vehicle. More than just driving, this includes activating and being physically in control of the vehicle. OWI also includes prescription medication beyond the therapeutic level, as well as any detectable level of illegal drugs.

Here are the things that may qualify as operating a vehicle while parked:

  • Running engine: A running engine with you behind the wheel suggests intent to drive under the influence.
  • Keys in ignition: Whether the engine is on or off, readily accessible keys imply the potential for drunk driving.
  • Fumbling with controls: Any effort to start the car or engage the gears shows an attempt at operating while intoxicated.

Situations can get more complex. If you’re parked but visibly intoxicated, a police officer can investigate further to see if you have driven under the influence. Even if you had no intention of driving, an OWI arrest is possible.

Public vs private parking lots

Wisconsin law states that a highway can be any place that allows motor vehicles. An officer can charge you with an OWI even if you park in apartment complexes and buildings with four or more units, whether they are public or private property.

The only exemptions from the OWI statute are private parking areas at farms or single-family residences.

Wisconsin takes driving under the influence seriously, and parked vehicles are not safe zones for intoxicated people. Understanding and keeping these things in mind can clear you of a potentially costly and life-altering arrest. An OWI charge can be a stressful situation, especially with your record on the line. In situations like these, seeking legal counsel can be crucial in determining appropriate approaches and remedies to address the issues.

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