You cannot be charged with DUI simply for riding in a car with an intoxicated driver. This is true across the board, even if you were aware that the driver was unsafe to drive. The definition of DUI is driving under the influence, and you cannot be convicted if you were not driving.
However, there are circumstances where a passenger could be charged with either DUI or a related charge. This is rare and it usually happens in one of three situations:
- Police are not sure who was driving, so they charge you even though you were actually a passenger.
- Police believe you helped drive or steer the car while it was moving.
- You broke some other law, which police discovered during the DUI stop (such as underage drinking).
What do police do if they’re not sure who was driving?
This usually happens when a car is either on the side of the road, was in an accident, or was already parked before police arrived. Police then have to decide which of the people at the scene, if any, were driving. In theory, police are supposed to investigate and determine who was the one behind the wheel. In practice, however, they may get the answer wrong.
If you are arrested for DUI even though you were not the one driving, you can use the no driving defense.
Can I really be convicted of DUI if I helped steer the vehicle?
The law says that anyone in control of a moving vehicle is driving it. That means that you were “driving” even if you momentarily reached out to steady the wheel—indeed, even if you did it to prevent an accident. There is nothing illegal about this on its own, but if you are suspected of being intoxicated, it becomes a potential DUI.
Often, police will ask you leading questions. They want to know if you, as an intoxicated passenger, had anything to do with driving the vehicle. Remember that you do not have to answer these questions, and can politely decline.
Even if you already told police you touched the wheel, the DUI case against you is weak. You were only driving on a technicality and were not the true driver of the vehicle. A DUI lawyer has a high chance of success in getting the charge dismissed or reduced to something minor.
What other offenses can passengers be charged with?
The most common offense we see for intoxicated passengers is with people under 21, who can be charged with underage drinking or underage possession of alcohol. These are not DUI charges, but they can still affect your drivers license, including a potential one-year suspension.
Passengers can also be charged with public drunkenness, drug possession and other offenses in some cases.
Have you been charged with DUI? We can connect you with an experienced Los Angeles DUI lawyer and get you a FREE consultation. Fill out the form to the right or call (310) 896-2724 and get your free consultation today.