Every year, close to one and a half million drivers are arrested for DUI in the United States. It is never a good idea to get into the car with a driver that is impaired. The reality, however, is that it happens every single day. There are several different scenarios that can play out for the passenger in a car in which the driver is arrested for Driving Under the Influence. This author has almost thirty years of police experience and has seen, and dealt with, each of these situations while arresting hundreds of drivers for DUI.
1. The Passenger is the Car Owner
If the passenger is the car owner, they have probably allowed the arrestee to drive because the passenger has been drinking as well, and it was assumed that the driver was the less impaired. Whether or not the passenger is impaired really does not matter, though. The bigger issue is that the owner of the vehicle has allowed an impaired driver to operate their car. In most states, the passenger can be arrested along with the driver. In Georgia, for example, the charge is Allowing Unlawful Operation of a Motor Vehicle. This is section 40-1-3 of the Georgia Traffic Code. This charge holds the owner of a vehicle responsible for letting someone drive their car unlawfully. In this example, the owner/passenger is allowing someone who is under the influence of alcohol of drugs to drive their car. Under this charge, the owner/passenger can be arrested along with the driver. The owner/passenger’s bond and fines could be the same as the driver’s.
2. There are Other Criminal Charges on the Passenger
In this scenario, the passenger is found to be in violation of some other law. They might have an open container of alcohol with them in the car. They might be found to have drugs on them. They might have outstanding warrants for their arrest. In this situation, the passenger is also arrested. It is also not uncommon for an intoxicated passenger to “talk their way” into going to jail. Depending on their level of intoxication, they might take exception to the driver being arrested and end up becoming abusive or belligerent towards the police. Most jurisdictions have a Public Drunk or Disorderly Conduct charge that works well with this type of person.
3. The Passenger is Not the Owner of the Vehicle and is Not Impaired
If the driver is the owner of the vehicle and is arrested for DUI, they can, if they choose, have the police release the car to the passenger. This keeps from having the car impounded. This scenario will not work if the driver is not the owner of the vehicle. If the driver is not the owner, they do not have the authority to release the vehicle to someone else. In that case, the car will probably get impounded.
4. The Car Cannot be Released to the Passenger
In the vast majority of cases, the passenger of a DUI arrest is allowed to call someone to come and pick them up. This is only a viable option, however, when the passenger’s ride is coming from nearby. It is unrealistic to expect the police to sit on the side of the road with someone for an extended period of time waiting for their ride. In many situations, the police will transport the passenger to a convenience store or other location where they can wait for their ride. If the passenger lives close by, it would also be acceptable for an officer to drive the passenger home.
5. Serious Injury or Death
Every year in the United States, over ten thousand people die in alcohol related motor vehicle accidents. In many of these cases, it is not just the drivers that are dying, but also their passengers. It is very dangerous to get into a car with someone who has been drinking.
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, it is never a good idea to get in the car with someone who has been drinking. In a perfect world, a sober person would be the driver and the person who has been drinking would be the pasenger. If both subjects have been drinking, a taxi ride home is a good way to go. While a taxi ride might be expensive, the repercussions for driving under the influence or being their passenger are much more expensive.