I’m Attorney Mike Contant. Did you know you can be arrested for drunk driving even if you’re parked? A couple years ago, we had a client, Eric. Eric had been out drinking with his friends and was driving home. As he was driving home, he thought he had a little bit too much to drink. He decided to pull over to the side of the road and sleep it off. 

A Client Story

As he was sitting there on the side of the road, he decides to turn the electrical component of the car on and listen to the radio. A short time later, an officer came along and asked him what he was doing there. And he tried to explain to him, “Taking a nap.” The officer asked him to step out of the vehicle and perform a field sobriety test because he thought he had drunk too much. Ultimately, Eric was arrested for drunk driving.

Now, you might be asking yourself, “Eric wasn’t driving. How can he be arrested for drunk driving?” And the reason for the arrest is that the elements of a drunk driving case in Massachusetts, called operating under the influence of alcohol, include three things. 

The Three Elements Of Drunk Driving

First, you’re operating a motor vehicle. Second, you are doing so in a public way or in a way where the public has the right of access. And third is if you’re impaired. It’s not necessary that you’re falling down drunk but that your ability to operate the vehicle safely is impared due to the alcohol. 

Operating A Vehicle

The first element is what I’m talking about here. The operation of a car does mean the normal things, like driving down the road, i.e., what you’d expect. But it also means that if you are manipulating any part of the mechanical or electrical portion of the car, either alone or in sequence with some other portion that can cause the vehicle to move, that can be considered operation as well. 

For instance, having the keys in the ignition, even though you did not start the car, could be considered operation because you’re manipulating the electrical impulse of the car that could start it. 

Where It Can Get Tricky

Likewise, if you were to pull on the gear shift and, say, put it into neutral even if the car isn’t running. Or if you’re sitting in the car, like a lot of people do in Eric’s situation. They want to be responsible and not drive drunk. 

So they pull over to the side of the road. 

And in Massachusetts, it gets pretty cold in the winter. They leave the car running so they can have the heater on. If you’re sitting in a parked car on the side of the road with the heater on, it’s considered operation for the purposes of a drunk driving case. 

What You Must Do

So if you are going to do the responsible thing after you’ve been driving and you decide to pull over, it’s really important that you make sure you don’t turn the car on in any way. It’s even better if you take the keys and put them someplace else, the backseat or something like that. 

Also, don’t sit in the driver’s seat. Make it so that it’s very clear that you have no intention of driving this car. It’ll be unlikely you could get arrested for drunk driving when you’re trying to do the responsible thing. 

If You Have Questions

If you have any questions about this or anything else related to drunk driving or other traffic offenses, please feel free to give me a call or shoot me an email. I’d be happy to speak with you about it.