There’s a close relative to DUI in Washington State called Physical Control of a Motor Vehicle While Under the Influence. Someone arrested for Physical Control will face many of the same penalties as one accused of a DUI.

One can be arrested for Physical Control when sitting in their vehicle, even if the vehicle isn’t running and even if the vehicle can’t be driven. But Washington State’s Physical Control statute does carve out an exception for those who move their vehicle “safely off the roadway.” The Washington legislature and courts have been reluctant to define safely off the roadway. This has allowed the courts to stay flexible and do what they think is right based upon the facts of each case.

In one Spokane Physical Control case the court said a driver, who had moved her car into a parking lot 20 to 30 yards off the roadway, was actually safely off the roadway. In this case the driver had also called a friend to come pick her up before she fell asleep in her car. Additionally, the police officer stated that there was no danger to the public based on where she was located when he found her. The court said this driver was safely off the roadway so she couldn’t be convicted.

There is also some guidance on what is not safely off the roadway. In a different court case the driver had fallen asleep behind the wheel while in a parking lot, but not actually in a parking stall. When police arrived the vehicle was running and the transmission was in drive. Ultimately, this driver was found guilty of Physical Control.

In 2019 the Washington State Legislature tried further defining safely off the roadway in the Physical Control statute, but these proposed changes did not become law during this legislative session. Although, steps like turning the vehicle off and moving out of the driver’s seat may be advisable, one can still be arrested for Physical Control even if they do these things.

Due to the lack of clarity in the statute and from the Washington State courts, the best advice is to simply avoid combining motor vehicles with alcohol and/or drugs. If you find yourself in a situation similar to the ones above, it is a good idea to get in contact with a DUI attorney to discuss your options.