Can you legally sleep it off in your car?

If you’re going to be drinking, it’s crucially important to have a plan before you drink for how you’re going to get home. As we all know, alcohol affects your judgment. That means that any plan you come up with after you have been drinking may not be a good one.

A lot of well-meaning people, for example, try to do the right thing when they’re drunk. They realize they shouldn’t be driving, so they decide to sleep off the effects of alcohol. Often enough, they decide to do so in their cars.

Unfortunately, that’s a mistake. In many instances, you can still be arrested for DUI if you’re sleeping it off in your car. This is because you can be convicted of DUI in Tennessee simply for being “in physical control” of a motorized vehicle on a public highway or any premises generally frequented by the public at large, which includes streets and parking lots, while you’re intoxicated.

How can you be in physical control of a vehicle when you’re asleep?

The main idea behind this law is not to punish people for trying to sober up in a vehicle. It is to prevent someone from waking up, not realizing they are still intoxicated, and driving at that point.

That said, Tennessee courts don’t automatically assume you are in physical control of a vehicle simply because you’re asleep inside one. They consider the “totality of the circumstances” when determining whether you possessed a vehicle and had the potential means of driving.

That means they will consider specifically what you did. Were you in the driver’s seat or did you lie down in the back seat? Were the keys in the ignition? Were the keys in your immediate possession? Was the engine running? Was the car parked appropriately, or did you fall asleep at a stoplight? Was there alcohol in the car with you? Is it apparent that you drove drunk on your way to the vehicle’s current location?

If you are arrested for DUI when you were sleeping it off in your car, you should tell your defense attorney about any steps you took to prevent yourself from waking up and driving while still intoxicated. This is a situation where your side of the story could be very important to the outcome of your case.

As always, the best advice is to arrange a sober ride home ahead of time. If you find yourself caught out with no way to get home, however, don’t try to sleep it off in your car. Find a 24-hour coffee shop or rent a hotel room. Call a Lyft or a taxi. Walk home or take the bus. Just stay out from behind the wheel of a car.

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