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Drunk Driving: Elements of the Offense

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No matter what the name of the crime might be-DUI, DWI, OUI, or OWI-the first element of the crime is "driving," or "operating," a motor vehicle. This language is intended to describe the level of physical control a person has over the motor vehicle. In many states, operating or driving does not require that the vehicle actually be in motion, or even that the engine be running. A person who is found sitting behind the wheel of a car may be convicted of driving or operating the car while under the influence. Courts have even convicted people sitting behind the wheel of a car while it is being towed. Passengers are seldom considered operators or drivers unless they grab the steering wheel.

As used in the drunk driving laws, the term "vehicle" is defined more broadly than just "motor vehicle." Usually, a "vehicle" is defined as anything that carries people or goods. A "motor vehicle" is something powered by a motor or engine. Either term can include cars, trucks, even motorboats. Most laws draw a distinction between inoperable vehicles and those that are only immobile-capable of moving, but not moving at the time. Legal distinctions such as this are one reason you need an experienced drunk driving defense attorney to give your case the careful analysis needed.

Another element of a drunk driving charge is the location of the offense. Older drunk driving laws often included limiting phrases, such as "on the public highways of the state." Many judges relied on that language to conclude that the drunk driving laws did not apply to someone driving on private property, including parking lots. Modern laws, however, require only proof that the offense took place within the boundaries of the state.