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North Carolina Actual Physical Control Laws

A recent question posted on our forum indicated a North Carolina resident was charged with drunk driving in North Carolina, not while they were operating their motorized vehicle but while they were walking out of Walmart. The driver wants to know if this is legal and how they should fight against this drunk driving charge. State courts have upheld that a driver, even if they were not physically driving, could be considered in “actual physical control” of their car if they were sitting in their car, had the keys in their possession or even if they were sleeping in their car.

North Carolina Drunk Driving Laws

  In 2006, the North Carolina legislature made substantial changes to the drunk driving laws of North Carolina. These laws were effective December 1, 2006. According to the law, a driver "commits the offense of impaired driving if he drivers or is in actual physical control of a vehicle which is in motion or has the motor running.” North Carolina Court of Appeals has upheld “actual physical control” statutes and state they can include:
  • Admission by the driver that they were driving even if they were not seen operating the vehicle
  • Drivers asleep behind the wheel
  • Drivers seated in the car with the heater running
  • Drivers found asleep with the engine running at a stop sign
The statute specifically related to a public vehicular area which is defined as “ a highway, any street, or any public vehicular area within this State." The statute excludes property or land which is not open to the public for use, but the appeals court decided that private businesses and parking lots can be considered “public vehicular areas.” The ruling also stressed that whether or not the business is open or serving the public at the time of the North Carolina drunk driving arrest is irrelevant. North Carolina defines impaired driving as either consuming drugs or alcohol to the extent that the driver has “lost normal control of their bodily or mental faculties causing appreciable impairment or their blood alcohol concentration is above 0.08% with or without mental or physical impairment observed."

Hiring a Drunk Driving Lawyer

  What is the best course of action for our driver in North Carolina? They need to talk to a drunk driving lawyer. The driver did not mention whether or not they admitted to operating the vehicle or what observations the police officer made at the time of the drunk driving arrest concerning the driver’s behavior. For instance, did the driver stumble through the parking lot, drop a bag of groceries, fumble with their keys, get in their car and start the car- with the full intention of driving even though they were clearly intoxicated? Without more information about the DUI arrest, it is impossible to say for sure.  If there is little evidence they were intoxicated it may be helpful to get video surveillance which might prove that they were not physically impaired and not close to their car. Drunk driving laws vary by state; talk to a DUI lawyer who understands drunk driving laws in North Carolina.      
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