How Does Virginia Law Define “Operating” a Vehicle Under the Influence?

The law of the Commonwealth of Virginia makes it illegal to drive or operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. What is considered ‘operating?’ And where does the law draw the line on what counts as being ‘under the influence?’

The law doesn’t only prohibit driving under the influence; it prohibits operating the vehicle under the influence, and operation can be broadly understood. The operator of a car, van, bus, or truck is the individual who has physical control over a vehicle. The courts have decided that operation includes driving a vehicle and the use of any mechanical or electrical vehicle equipment. The car could be in park and you could be listening to music, enjoying the air conditioning, or reading the dashboard GPS, and it doesn’t matter. If the engine is running, the vehicle is in operation. If you have found yourself in a situation where you are charged for operating a vehicle under the influence, seek legal help for your DUI incident in Virginia immediately.

Someone is under the influence of alcohol or drugs when the substances cause a change in their manner, disposition, speech, movement, and behavior. Virginia is not required to prove a certain level of intoxication under this section of the state’s DUI law. Otherwise, a breathalyzer test can be used. If the examination reveals a blood alcohol content (BAC) higher than .08, the defendant could be charged with a DUI. Similarly, if tests show certain amounts of drugs in a defendant’s system, they could also face DUI charges.

Can You Get a DUI Somewhere Other Than Public Roads?

It may be difficult to accept, but in Virginia, ‘sleeping it off’ in your car counts as drunk driving. It counts as driving under the influence even when it happens somewhere other than public roads. In a notable 2014 case, a defendant was found sleeping in his car, parked in his own driveway. When asked by police, he admitted to drinking earlier in the day but went to his car to rest and listen to music. The man received a DUI despite not driving anywhere and never leaving his property.

Someone could also receive a DUI for operating a vehicle while drunk or high while parked in a private roadway, in the parking lot, or parked along the curb outside someone’s home.

What if it is Not Evident Who is Operating the Vehicle?

Even a person who is drunk or high and seated in a passenger’s seat could theoretically be charged with a DUI in Virginia. The police could accuse the driver and passenger of having switched places.

How Common is it for Law Enforcement to Arrest Someone for Operating a Vehicle Under the Influence of Drugs or Alcohol?

Upsetting as it may be, DUI arrests of people who are simply in operation of their vehicles are more common than you might think. It’s a fairly common occurrence for police to find someone sleeping in their car or parked along the side of the road and then check on them. If anything about their behavior causes the police officer to raise their eyebrows and suspect the motorist is under the influence, they could charge the defendant with a DUI.

Law enforcement regularly patrols for DUIs, and they’re not only looking for drivers out on the highways and thoroughfares. Police officers often patrol where alcohol may be served and consumed, including bars, restaurants, sporting events, concerts, and festivals. On these patrols, officers can stop and question people parked in their automobiles if they have cause for concern about the motorist being under the influence.

Schedule an In-Depth Case Evaluation with Representation for DUI in Virginia Today

DUI charges can have lasting negative impacts on a person’s life, potentially limiting their opportunities for housing, employment, education, and even the adoption of a child. It would feel unfair to be charged for drunk driving when you weren’t even driving, but the laws are written as such that it could be possible.

If you’ve been charged with a DUI, it is absolutely vital that you speak with advocates for drunk driving charges in Virginia immediately. At the Law Office of Seth C. Weston, our legal team provides confident and knowledgeable legal representation to clients in need.

To schedule a confidential case review, please contact our Roanoke-based law offices at (540)-384-4585.