Can you get a DWI if your car is in park?

You’re in your car, and you are intoxicated. You’re not driving, though. Your vehicle is in “park” mode. Can you still get charged with driving while impaired (DWI)?

It sounds like you could not, as you’re not driving at all and there was no risk of an accident. But you may be surprised to learn that you certainly can get arrested on suspicion of drunk driving, even in this situation. 

Are you operating the car?

The key under North Carolina law is whether or not you were operating the car. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you were driving it, in a traditional sense. To begin with, the law says that “driver” and “operator” are supposed to be synonyms. So when someone is said to be an impaired driver, they could be an impaired operator. 

So what is an operator? The law also notes that this is anyone who is in “actual physical control of a vehicle which is in motion or which has the engine running.”

From this reading, if you were parked and the car was off, you wouldn’t have any issues. If the car was on, though — perhaps you were just running the heater or the AC, or listening to music — then you would qualify as an operator, and you could get a DWI. You could argue that you weren’t driving, but the law is fairly straightforward in saying that driving is not a requirement, so you could still face legal charges. 

A charge doesn’t mean you’ll be convicted

The thing to remember is that this just means you could get arrested. It doesn’t guarantee a conviction, as these are complicated cases, so you need to understand your legal options