Whether you live in New York or another state, chances are you’ve heard someone say that a passenger cannot be charged with a DUI during a traffic stop. It’s a common presumption and one that is not without merit. If a passenger is not in the driver’s seat then it can be assumed that they are not operating the vehicle. If they are not operating the vehicle, then they cannot be charged with driving under the influence.
Unfortunately, the wording of many states’ laws make the statement above a little less than true in certain circumstances. Like here in New York, some states explain that any person who operates a vehicle while intoxicated can be charged with a DWI. In other states, if a person so much as exerts control over the vehicle, such as tugging on the wheel while the vehicle is in motion, this can lead to a DUI charge as well.
The circumstances can change too if a passenger no longer qualifies as a passenger, such as in a recent case involving two men from Flushing. According to reports, the men were pulled over while travelling along I-91 in Vermont. After getting the driver out of the vehicle, police say the passenger got behind the wheel and allegedly put the car in gear. Under state law, the man had exerted control over the vehicle. And because he was intoxicated at the time, he was charged with a criminal offense along with the driver.
It’s possible that the second man, much like a majority of other people across the nation, was under the presumption above and assumed he would not face DUI charges if he switched places with the driver. Unfortunately though, by allegedly putting the vehicle into gear, he no longer qualified as a passenger, thus making him prone to criminal charges as well.
Source: tribtown.com, “Police: 1 traffic stop nets 2 DUI arrests after passenger jumps in driver’s seat,” The Associated Press, July 26, 2015