In West Virginia, No Drunk Driving – Even on Private Property

no drunk driving on private propertyPrivate property has a kind of mystique in America. Our home is our castle. Out there we might have to obey the norms of society, but when we’re on our own turf – well, get off my lawn, and never mind how many pink flamingos I display on it. That’s my business.

But does that apply to drunk driving? Many people who own large parcels of property feel they have the right to down a beer while operating a tractor or ATV. But laws are not as clearly in support of that. California, for instance, deleted a clause which would have made its DUI laws apply only to public roads. And now West Virginia has gone further: the State Supreme Court has ruled that motorists who are caught driving drunk on private property are subject to the same DUI laws as anyone else.

The case that brought the decision about involved a man who wrecked his ATV while driving on his farm with a blood alcohol concentration of .17, about twice the legal limit. The man had his license revoked but he successfully appealed the conviction, on the grounds that he was not driving on public lands.

However, the DMV was not satisfied, and the State Supreme Court sided with them. In Patricia S. Reed v. Joshua D. Beckett, the court said that West Virginia’s code prohibited drunk driving “in this State.” The opinion gives reasons why that phrase means “anywhere within the physical boundaries of this State.”

While the case means a lot to the parties involved, it probably won’t shake up the world of drunk driving enforcement. Police in most states have arrested drivers on private property who are under the influence, for the same reason that they arrest drivers on public roads: because they are a danger to themselves and others.

The more important point here is that people should not want to drive drunk on any property, private or otherwise. It’s dangerous. There are areas in which the distinction between public and private property is vital. Having a place to chug beers while driving is probably not the reason we draw that line.