While many other states call it DUI (driving under the influence) or DWI (driving while impaired), in Massachusetts drunk driving is called OUI (operating under the influence). In Massachusetts, if your blood alcohol content is higher than .08%, you can be convicted of OUI and even a first offense can lead to severe penalties. Even if you refuse to take a breath test, you can still be charged for OUI based on a police officer’s testimony about your driving, appearance, behavior, performance on tests to determine sobriety and other factors.

Operating under the influence involves the operation of a motor vehicle on a public thoroughfare or way, typically a highway, secondary road or one that the public has right of access, such as parking lots and shopping centers, while you are under the influence of either alcohol or drugs.

A key element of the definition of OUI is “operating”. This doesn’t just include driving a car in the usual sense. If you are sitting in your car at the roadside and you have the key in the ignition with the accessories on (listening to the radio or something like that), that is technically considered operation in Massachusetts. If the car is turned off and you’re able to manipulate the gear shift into neutral that can be considered operation even though the car is not running. It is an odd thing, but basically, intentionally manipulating anything mechanical or electrical that could set the vehicle in motion is considered operation.

The typical person, who might realize that they are too drunk to be driving, may pull over to the side of the road and go to sleep with the radio or heater on. They could still be convicted of drunk driving, of OUI, should the police come upon them by the roadside and realize they are drunk just sitting there, because that is still considered operation.

Another element of OUI that should be further explained is what it means to be “under the influence.” This does not necessarily mean falling down drunk. It can mean that your alertness and your reflexes are simply impaired to the point where you cannot drive safely. That is another misconception that many people have. It also does not require a person to necessarily be driving unsafely. A person can be driving perfectly fine, get pulled over for something else, perhaps speeding or a broken taillight, and they could be found guilty of OUI because they either blew above a .08 or they were otherwise impaired to the point where they should not have been driving, even though they were driving fine.

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