In Ohio, we call it operating a vehicle under the influence, or OVI. In other states, it’s commonly known as driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI). Whatever you call the crime of drinking and driving, the elements of the crime are the same: driving a vehicle while having more than the legally allowed amount of alcohol in your system.
But the fact that your vehicle is not in motion — or that the engine is not even running — does not shield you from arrest in Ohio, thanks to a law called Having Physical Control of a Vehicle while Under the Influence.
The elements of the crime
As the name of the crime suggests, it is against the law to be in “physical control” of a motor vehicle while “under the influence of alcohol, a drug of abuse, or a combination of them.” The statute defines “physical control” as being in the driver’s seat and “having possession of the vehicle’s… ignition key or other ignition device.” In other words, your vehicle could be parked and turned off, and you could still be arrested if the police determine that your keys are in your possession while you are sitting in the front seat.
This crime is a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. Also, the judge may suspend your driver’s license for up to a year.
Why is this illegal?
Some readers might question what the purpose of this law is when there is no apparent public safety issue. After all, a car that is not running is unlikely to cause a car accident, and sitting in the front seat is not the same thing as driving drunk. Still, you need to be aware that the law prohibits you from sitting in your car if you are intoxicated and have your keys in your pocket or purse.
If you have been arrested for being in control of a vehicle while intoxicated, OVI, or related charges, you need to take action to defend yourself. A good first step would be to contact a defense attorney.