You leave the bar with your friends, and you’re so drunk that you don’t even stop to think about who’s driving you home. You just hop into the passenger’s seat and wait for the car to somehow start moving, even if that means you might be riding with a drunk driver. Yikes!
Now let’s say that the car does start moving, and it’s your drunk friend who’s driving it. If this is the case — you’re drunk in the passenger’s seat and your friend is also drunk behind the wheel — what can happen? Obviously, your friend can be arrested for a DWI, but can a drunk passenger also be charged with a DWI?
How on earth can you get in trouble for riding with a drunk driver?
Like many things in the legal world, being a passenger in a car where the driver gets charged with a DWI doesn’t put you in a black and white position. There are a few different circumstances that might lead an officer to assume that you were not the passenger in a vehicle that’s been pulled over, but rather the one behind the wheel.
Here are some situations that might get you arrested for riding with a “drunk” driver:
- Let’s say a police officer notices a car driving erratically, weaving in and out of lanes, or not going a speed anywhere near the speed limit. The police officer pulls over the car because he suspects the driver is drunk. After speaking with the driver, he realizes that the driver is actually sober, but that you, the passenger, are most definitely not. The officer might start to believe that you were the one actually driving when he pulled over the vehicle, and that you simply switched places with the passenger in order to avoid being charged.
- In this example, let’s say you truly are the passenger. How can a drunk passenger be charged with a DUI/DWI, then? Well if you’re drunk and happen to reach over to use the steering wheel, then you just operated a vehicle while intoxicated. And by that new circumstance, you could be charged. You might have been the passenger, but you also drove the car.
Can a sober passenger by charged with a DUI/DWI?
Now, what if you aren’t drunk, and somehow you allowed your drunk friend to drive? Are you responsible for their actions? Let’s break it down: You are sober, so you do know what’s going on — which means, you are perfectly aware of the fact that your friend is driving drunk.
In this case, you’ll probably face an avalanche of questions from the officer who pulls you over. They’ll wonder why you allowed your friend to drive drunk and, if you’re of driving age, they’ll ask you why you didn’t drive instead.
The fact of the matter is, you may still face some consequences, since your lack of action can be considered a form of negligence. A situation like this one could even lead to reckless endangerment charges since you knowingly put other lives in danger by allowing your friend to drive drunk.
The stakes are raised further if you’re a sober passenger in vehicle involved in a DUI/DWI accident or that’s been pulled over for DWI with a child in the car.
What should you do if you’re caught riding with a drunk driver?
Many DWI cases built upon situations like the ones mentioned above are pretty weak — that said, it doesn’t mean they’ll be thrown out. If you are pulled over and the officer suspect you were somehow operating the vehicle as a drunk passenger, don’t allow the police to ask you leading questions. Avoid digging yourself into a hole and don’t answer questions that will get you arrested.
Keep in mind, however, there are other things you can be charged with as a drunk passenger. Take a look at how the open container laws in Texas work.
Note: We know that DWIs can be confusing and scary. Check out one of our latest articles to learn more about what to expect after you experience your first encounter with Texas DWI laws, as well as how to take advantage of a pretrial diversion for a Harris County DWI.
Charged with a DWI/DUI as a passenger? Act fast.
So, can a drunk passenger be charged with a DWI? It’s possible, but much less likely if you have an aggressive lawyer on your side. If you’ve been charged with a DWI/DUI as a passenger, you need to have an expert Houston DWI attorney and fast.
The team at Thiessen Law Firm is more than equipped to handle your passenger DWI case from start to finish. Give us a call at (713) 864-9000 or request your free consultation online.
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