DUI/DWI on Private Property

Do DUI laws apply only to drunk driving on public roads and highways?

By , Attorney

Driving on highways and other public property while intoxicated is illegal in every state. However, in many jurisdictions, it's also unlawful to drive on private property while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

How DUI laws apply to private property and the types of private property that state statutes cover vary by jurisdiction. This article provides an overview of DUI laws that prohibit impaired driving on private property.

DUI Statutes That Apply to the Entire State

Some state DUI statutes apply to private property by prohibiting driving a vehicle while intoxicated "everywhere in the state."

For example, in some states, it's unlawful for an intoxicated person to drive a vehicle:

  • "within this state"
  • "anywhere in this state," or
  • "on highways and elsewhere throughout the state."

Courts have interpreted this type of language to encompass all areas of the state where a vehicle can be driven. Therefore, in states with these broad DUI statutes, it's illegal to drive a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs anywhere within the boundaries of the state, regardless of whether the property is public, private, or open to the public.

DUI Laws That Include Some Private Properties

All DUI laws apply to public property, which typically includes highways, roads, streets, thoroughfares, bridges, and the berm or shoulder of all roadways. However, in some states, certain private property is included in the definition of public areas.

In these jurisdictions, DUI laws generally apply to specific types of private property by making it unlawful for an intoxicated person to drive a vehicle:

  • "upon any premises open to the public"
  • "on premises to which the public has access"
  • "on private property open to the public," or
  • "upon private areas to which the public has a right of access for vehicular use."

State laws vary, but to determine whether the private property is open to the public for purposes of DUI offenses, factors that courts typically consider are whether:

  • the property is available to the general public for the use of vehicular travel or parking
  • an indefinite and undefined group of the public have access to the property (as opposed to use by a few privileged members of the public)
  • business is conducted on the premises or the property is residential
  • the property is immediately accessible from a public sidewalk or street, and
  • there's an intent to keep the public out, shown by limitations to accessing the property, such as physical barriers, posted signs restricting access, or consequences for entry by unauthorized individuals.

DUI laws that apply to private property open to the public are usually broad enough to cover parking lots where the public is invited for business or entertainment purposes. As a result, in most jurisdictions, the parking lots of restaurants, shopping malls, schools, office buildings, hospitals, and parks are open to the public for DUI purposes. Additionally, DUI laws usually apply to the parking lots and common areas of multi-family residential dwellings such as trailer parks, apartment complexes, and condominiums.

On the other hand, the statutory language of "open to the public" doesn't typically cover the driveways of private residences. Even though social and business guests are allowed to use private driveways, the use is generally limited to a few privileged individuals.

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