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Can I Pull Over and “Sleep It Off”?

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Can I Sleep It Off In My Car — Sometimes it’s hard to measure how much alcohol it takes for a person to be “impaired” enough to be guilty of driving under the influence. People might go out and have some drinks with dinner and feel fine, but then start to feel the effects of alcohol.

Pulling Over Is Not Enough

What’s easier to measure is how long a person should drive after having reason to believe they’re being affected by the alcohol: not at all. That’s why the natural instinct for anyone who becomes aware of his or her impairment while on the road is to stop driving immediately. But many people do not know that simply pulling over is not enough: even the mere act of having a key in the ignition is still considered “driving.”

Many cases have come through this office exactly that way: the client gets hit with the effects of alcohol while on the highway, pulls over, and takes a nap; before long an officer is rapping on the window and asking the sleepy driver to step out and come to the station. It’s always tough to tell that person that doing the “right thing” by ensuring other drivers are safe gets no recognition without taking some unusual steps.

Steps You Should Take

To avoid the risk of being deemed a “driver” while on the side of the road, the car must first be off. If the car is capable of moving, there is little chance that a court will find that the person is not able to drive. Then, a person has to relinquish physical control of the car. There can’t be any possibility that the person can cause the car to move in any way. That means taking the keys out of the ignition, even if the car is off, and perhaps even moving to the back seat and placing the keys in an inaccessible location. The line on this front is blurry, so it’s hard to tell exactly how far a person needs to go to prove that he or she no longer has control of the car.

The New Hampshire legislature recently tried to clarify this area of the law, by making an exception that allows people to “shelter in place” when they feel they’re too drunk to drive. One major component of the change would have been to allow people to pull off to the side of the road and keep the key in the ignition so their heat can remain active on a cold New Hampshire night. Unfortunately, the New Hampshire legislature voted against that clarification, leaving us with the uncertain and impractical status quo.

This is only one example of the many traps embedded in the DUI laws. If you’ve been arrested for DUI or any other criminal charge, having a lawyer review your case early on can help develop your defense. To get started, call Jared Bedrick at Douglas, Leonard & Garvey, P.C., (603) 288-1403 or fill out our online contact form.