It’s Your Property – Can You Drive Drunk On It?

People love to split hairs and talk technicalities about drunk driving law.

“I have a prescription for the tranquilizer so I can’t get arrested for DUI.”

“My blood alcohol level was .07, which is under the limit, so I’ll be let off.”

“I was drunk in my car, but the engine was off, so I can’t get arrested.”

drive-drunk-on-private-propery-signAll of these statements are false, as you’ll know if you’re a regular reader of this blog. Drunk driving law is complicated, and in general, it’s skewed to protect the public, not the offender. If you are impaired behind the wheel, expect to face a penalty no matter what your excuse is.

One exception: the statement “I can drive drunk on my own private property.” The truth or falsity of that statement is by means settled throughout the country. Virginia was the latest state to tackle it.

Republican Senator Richard Stuart introduced a bill which would allow people to drive drunk on private property. It passed in the Senate by a wide margin, and went to the House of Delegates.

It’s Your Property – What’s the Harm?

The logic in favor of the bill was pretty clear – it’s your property, and you should be allowed to do what you want on it. However, not too many states feel that way. Michigan had a case that went all the way to its Supreme Court, which ruled that you can’t drive drunk even in your own driveway.

California used to have a phrase in its law prohibiting drunk driving in “areas open to the general public,” but the state axed the phrase so that private property would not be excluded. A West Virginia case ended much the same way.

Virginia tried to buck the general trend and allow you to drive drunk on your farm, the back road on your property, or your driveway. We understand the logic, but it’s probably was’t a good idea, for a these reasons:

  • Drunk driving is dangerous in itself – a rollover isn’t less lethal because it happens on private property
  • Alcohol leads to bad decision making – such as deciding to drive off the property while drunk

Another thought: the bill just adds one sentence stating that the prohibitions “shall not apply to any person driving or operating a motor vehicle on his own residential property.” What about endangering minors? Can you drive drunk on private property with a child in the vehicle?

This bill might have some merit to those for whom “individual liberty” includes the liberty to do stupid things. But most of us have more important causes to espouse – such as getting drunk drivers off the roads altogether.

And that’s why the Virginia bill died.