Operation of a Motor Vehicle

What does operation of a motor vehicle mean?

As an element of Driving While Intoxicated (DWI), the state must prove that the accused person was operating a motor vehicle. Whether a vehicle was being operated is not always clear. The standard jury instruction states that to operate a vehicle means to drive it. The instruction adds, however, that a person operates a motor vehicle if she is sitting behind the wheel of a motor vehicle with the intent to put it in motion.

One situation comes up frequently. A person goes to a bar and has too much to drink. Instead of driving home, she prudently decides to sit in her car and sleep it off. The individual then turns the car on to run the heat or the AC. According to the law, since there is no intent to drive the car, the person has not operated her motor vehicle and cannot properly be charged with DWI. Operation is a fact question. On the street, it is likely that your claim of just being in your car to sleep it off won't be believed. If you are sitting in the driver's seat with the car running after drinking, you will almost certainly be arrested and charged with DWI.

What is the best way to deal with this situation? The best way is to get an Uber or call a friend and pick up the car the next day. If that is not practical, it is important to not be behind the wheel with the car running. Instead, turn the ignition on while sitting in the passenger seat and then sleep in the passenger seat or, better yet, the back seat. This will make it clear that you have no intention to put the vehicle in motion.

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