Imagine this scenario: You’ve had a little too much to drink, and you know you shouldn’t be driving anywhere anytime soon. Right about now, sleep seems like a pretty good idea. So you hop into the front seat of your car, turn up that AC (because, Texas), and close your eyes. But wait a minute … is it illegal to sleep in your car drunk?

When we think of how DWIs usually go down, we don’t typically think of getting a DWI in a parked car in Texas, but it’s a scenario that comes up more than you’d think. Take a minute to learn what to do in case you’ve ever had one shot too many.

Can you get a DWI if you sleep in your car? Maybe.

Oh, I’m just sleeping, officer …

But unfortunately, that officer might not care. While you might think you did the responsible thing by choosing sleep over driving drunk, in the state of Texas, an officer may still find probable cause to charge you with a DUI/DWI.

What if you hadn’t even driven your car? Can you get a DUI/DWI if your car is parked? Again, in Texas, you can be arrested for DWI even if you were not actively driving your car. That includes even if you were asleep and the engine was off.

You wouldn’t expect an aspect of DWI law to be part of the many strange laws in Texas, but there you have it. Unfortunately, getting a DUI in parked car in Texas is no laughing matter; the Texas DWI penalties (especially for Houston marijuana laws) are just as harsh.  

But why can you get a DWI if you’re passed out in your car? Here’s to understanding Texas laws on DWI in parked cars.

In Texas, you need to be “operating a vehicle” to be charged with a DWI/DUI. “Operating a vehicle,” however, doesn’t exactly have the clearest definition. Texas does define motor vehicles and intoxication, there is a little more wiggle room around the interpretation the legal definition for “operation.”

Technically, the law says that if your foot is on the brake and/or the car is in drive, you’re operating your vehicle. If the car is in park, you’re not operating your vehicle. But the state can still prove, through circumstantial evidence, that you were DWI.

The result? If you’re intoxicated and then you get into a vehicle, there are a handful of scenarios that could lead an officer to believe that you’re “operating a vehicle.”

For example, let’s go back to the original scenario where you turned on the AC. If, for whatever reason, your engine is warm when the officer checks on you, or someone says they saw you drive the car, then that’s enough circumstantial evidence for an officer to charge you. Even if you simply fell asleep in a car that’s registered to you, that, too, can be enough evidence to charge you with a DWI/DUI in a parked car in Texas.

Ultimately, it’s up to the prosecutors to decide how they want to characterize the Texas definition of operating a motor vehicle, and it’s up to the jury to decide whether or not they agree. At the same time, these odd aspects of DWI law can actually be good news for you and your Houston DWI attorney.

Strategies for avoiding a parked car DWI arrest in Texas

While police can charge you for DWI while sleeping in a car in Texas, they don’t have to. If they believe you did not intend to operate a motor vehicle while intoxicated, then no harm has been done.

Should the occasion arise where you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of needing to pull over and rest away your intoxication, it’s wise to take these steps for your protection.

  • Do not stop in the middle of the road. Hopefully this is a no-brainer tip for avoiding a DWI/DUI in a parked car in Texas. Stopping in a parking lot should always be Option A when you’re considering to get off the road to wait until you’re fit to drive again. If you’re in a rural area, try pulling over to the far end of the shoulder. Obstructing traffic is a crime in and of itself, and leaving your vehicle on the road can be interpreted as intent to operate it while intoxicated.

  • If possible, stay where you are. If you pulled over on the side of the road to avoid a DUI, officers can speculate as to how you got there. So if you’re already parked somewhere legal, then stay there. Don’t worry about driving your car to a more secluded area. Even if you were already parked in an unusual spot, that’s still better than driving drunk.
  • Turn the car & and your lights off. Even if you’re sitting in a parking lot, leaving your car on implies that you had been driving recently and that you mean to drive again soon. This is all a police officer/prosecutor need to establish intent to operate a motor vehicle while intoxicated.
  • Keep your keys out of the ignition and put them out of reach. Putting your keys in a secure location like the glove box or in the trunk sends a clear signal that you aren’t planning on driving any time soon.
  • Sleep in the backseat. While knowing the answer to “Is it legal to sleep in your car drunk?” isn’t clear-cut, knowing where you should sleep in your car is pretty straightforward. That’s right: if you’re worried about getting a DUI in a parked car in Texas, just cuddle up in the backseat. Why? If you aren’t in the front seat of the car, you can’t drive it. This doesn’t guarantee you won’t be woken up by a police flashlight, but it does look much better in court than staying in the driver’s seat.

  • Recline your seat. If for some reason you have to sleep in the front seat, recline your seat all the way.
  • Don’t admit to driving drunk. A lot of people who find themselves stopped for a parked car DWI think they’re doing themselves a favor by telling the cop that they pulled over to do the right thing. You may think you’re smoothing things over, but in reality, you’re admitting to driving while intoxicated, which belongs nowhere on a list of how not to get pulled over. If a cop finds you sleeping in your back seat, your best bet is to remain quiet but cooperative and say no more than necessary.

The reality of the situation is that even following all of these steps might not save you from getting arrested for a DWI, but your case will look much better to a judge and jury. It will also be easier for you and your lawyer to cast doubt on the DWI charge itself.

Arrested for a parked car DWI? Call Board-Certified Defense Attorney Mark Thiessen for a free consultation!

Can you get a DUI if you sleep in your car? Yes, even if you did so with good intentions. If you or a loved one have been charged with a parked car DWI, you need strong defense in your corner, and you need it fast. As one of only a few Board-Certified criminal defense attorneys in Texas, Mark Thiessen is uniquely qualified to help you fight your DWI charge, and he has the record to prove it.

Don’t leave your freedom up to chance. Call 713-864-9000 or click here to schedule your free consultation today.

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Mark Thiessen

Mark Thiessen is an aggressive trial lawyer best known for his devotion to justice for his clients and high rank as a DWI Super Lawyer in Texas.