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Can students get in trouble for DUI when sleeping in their car?

On Behalf of | Apr 1, 2024 | DUI

Many college students drink but do not want to drive. To avoid this, they may sleep in their car after a night of drinking.

However, there may be some legal problems with this type of scenario.

Legal definition of DUI

Many college students go to school in Georgia. For example, the University System of Georgia reached an enrollment of 344,392 students in 2023. If college students are in a position where they could easily start the vehicle and drive, they may be subject to wrongful DUI charges.

In Georgia, being in actual physical control of a MOVING vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs constitutes a DUI offense.  It is not illegal to be under the influence in a car that is parked and not moving, even if the engine is running.   The problem is that many officer’s are not aware that a vehicle has to have moved for someone to be guilty of DUI.  Another problem is that being behind the wheel of a stopped vehicle while intoxicated can serve as circumstantial evidence that you must have driven the vehicle to its current location while you were intoxicated.

The issue of physical control

The key factor is the concept of physical control of a MOVING vehicle. If law enforcement believes that the individual drove to its location when that individual was drunk, they might make a DUI arrest.  Factors such as the location of the keys, whether the engine is running and the individual’s proximity to the driver’s seat can all influence this determination.

It is certainly preferrable for someone who has had too much to drink to sleep it off in their car rather than to attempt to drive home.  To be clear, sleeping in a parked car while drunk, even if the engine is running, does not constitute DUI.  This might, however, get you arrested by an officer who either does not know the law (there are many of those) or who believes that you drove to the parking lot while drunk.

The safest option is to plan ahead and arrange for alternative transportation rather than sleep in a car.   If you must sleep in your vehicle after a night of drinking, the best option is to sleep in the back or the passenger seat.  It would also be helpful to keep the keys in an exterior location like the gas filler compartment.  Regardless of the seat location, key location, and whether the engine is running, make absolutely sure that you can explain to an officer that you drove to the location much earlier when you were sober, and that you walked back to your car or were dropped off by a friend and decided to sleep there.