Are Passengers Accountable for DWIs?

cop putting man in handcuffs on car

When we think of driving while under the influence (DWI), we often picture people who are alone driving home from an event; however, some drivers are driving others when they are buzzed. If other people willingly got in the car and didn’t stop the drunk driver from driving, can they be criminally charged for their actions?

Passenger Accountability & DWIs

The written law is sometimes intentionally ambiguous, but when it comes to DWI, it’s crystal clear. The only people who can be charged with DWI are drivers; however, who is a driver?

A driver is anyone who directs or is in command of a vehicle, and under this definition, anyone who touches a steering wheel is a driver. Therefore, when passengers touch the steering wheel, they are converted into drivers.

This law means passengers can only be charged with a DWI if they touched the steering wheel of the vehicle.

However, passengers can be charged for other alcohol-related crimes.

Alcohol-Related Crimes that Could Impact DWI Passengers

While passengers can’t be charged with DWI under normal circumstances, they can be charged for other alcohol-related crimes.

Police can charge passengers for the following crimes during a DWI stop:

  • having an open container in a vehicle;
  • underage drinking; and
  • public intoxication.

You may be surprised to learn that people can be charged with public intoxication while in someone’s car. Public roads and pathways are treated as public areas, and therefore, even if someone is in a car, they are technically on public property if the car is on the street.

In fact, public intoxication laws apply to people even when they are in parked cars!

Charged with a Crime?

If you or a loved are charged with any alcohol-related crimes, Smith & Vinson can help you fight your case! If you want award-winning representation on your side, look no further than Smith & Vinson!

Call (512) 359-3743 now for a free consultation for your case!

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