Driving Drunk in Your Own Driveway? It’s a Crime in Michigan.
It’s a good enough question that Michigan called upon its Supreme Court to answer it. Back in 2014 police in Northville, Michigan answered noise complaints at a house, and spotted the occupant in his Cadillac, driving out of and then back into his garage.
When he was found to be intoxicated, he was arrested on OWI charges, even though he never left his driveway.
The question: was the driveway merely private property, on which motor vehicle laws do not apply? Or was it, as the law states and the prosecution maintained, “generally accessible to motor vehicles” and thus a place where drunk driving should not be allowed?
The Michigan Court of Appeals had ruled in 2016 that a driveway is not generally accessible, and so the defendant was exonerated. But the case didn’t die there – the prosecution appealed. And now the Michigan Supreme Court has weighed in: there is no place that someone can get away with drunk driving. Not even their own driveway.
The majority opinion hinges on the meaning of “generally accessible.” A person’s driveway is not open to the public, but the public can access it despite not having permission to do so. The judges ruled that nothing prevented a member of the public from driving into the defendant’s driveway and being confronted with a drunk driver.
So is the issue settled for all time? In Michigan, perhaps. But others might argue, as dissenting judges did, that the law was not intended to cover driveways. After all, if “generally accessible” means “physically accessible,” then what areas are not covered by that. You can drive a car just about anywhere.
Still, the case is a good indicator of where drunk driving law is heading, in Michigan and elsewhere. Never has the public, legislators, and the courts been less sympathetic to drunk driving. That attitude has made roads safer. And driveways too – at least in Michigan.