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Can I get a DUI in a parked car? Washington’s “Physical Control” statute makes it a Gross Misdemeanor to be in physical control of an operable vehicle while under the influence of an intoxicating liquor or other substance. It carries the same penalties as a DUI. The penalties for a first offense include mandatory jail time of a minimum of 24 hours up to 364 days, loss of your driver’s license and fines. Penalties increase significantly with subsequent offenses. 

Physical Control of the Vehicle

The statute does not specifically define what is meant by “physical control” or an “operable vehicle” and it has been interpreted rather broadly by the courts. Many people charged with Physical Control offenses had no idea they were breaking the law because they were not driving or even planning to drive the car. This can occur in situations where someone is sitting in the car waiting to sober up or even waiting for a ride so they would not drive under the influence.

Other cases have found defendants guilty of a Physical Control offense where they were sitting in the driver’s seat of a parked car that was out of gas or in a broken down car where the evidence inferred that the defendant drove the vehicle to the point where it became inoperable. The steep penalties coupled with the wildly varying definitions of what constitutes a Physical Control charge make defending oneself in this type of case complicated. An experienced attorney will be able to present your case in the best light to protect your interests while avoiding the pitfalls of overly broad interpretations of this statute. 

Defenses to a DUI in a Parked Car

In the interests of public safety, there is a valid defense in the statute: if prior to being pursued by a law enforcement officer, the person has moved the vehicle safely off the roadway. A vehicle is considered to be “safely off the roadway” when the situation no longer poses a danger to the public. An example of this defense used successfully is where the car was pulled off the roadway and parked in a parking lot with the engine turned off and the driver asleep inside the car. This same defense failed in another case where the driver pulled the car into a parking lot, but not into a parking space, and left the engine running and transmission in Drive while sleeping and intoxicated. These two somewhat similar scenarios illustrate the types of situations that do and don’t promote public safety in the manner envisioned by the statute.

Physical Control charges are vague and leave much to be decided by the court or jury based on the presentation of the facts of the case. A lawyer who is familiar with the intricacies of these prosecutions is a key factor to your successful defense. If you have questions, please contact us at or (253) 236- 4079. 

Can I really get a DUI if I was just sitting in my parked car in Washington?

If you have questions about your case, please contact us at or (253) 236-4079.

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