There is no doubt that driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol is dangerous. It doesn't matter whether the driver is on a highway, a back street, or even on private property, if the person behind the wheel is intoxicated, there is a strong chance that it could precipitate an accident that could lead to serious injury or even death, not only of the driver but passengers or pedestrians that happen to be in the wrong place at that time.
But what about the law?
In Georgia, the DUI laws apply to all motor vehicles that are moving, irrespective of whether they are on public roads or private property. The only exceptions are devices that move along tracks or stationary rails, like trains. The law even applies to golf carts and tractors, even if they are being driven on a subdivision or around a golf course.
And yes, the police can arrest people for a DUI on their own property.
The Statistics – A Reality Check
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) one in three traffic deaths in the US involve drivers with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of at least 0.08 percent, which is the minimum to be classified as “alcohol-impaired” in terms of the law. In 2010 alone drunk drivers were known to have climbed behind the wheel about 112 million times.
A CDC fact sheet on alcohol-related deaths in Georgiashows that between 2003 and 2012 a total of 3,699 people were killed in accidents that involved a drunk driver. In keeping with national US figures, most of those who died were males aged 21 to 34.
According to the February 2015 edition of the Georgia Traffic Prosecutor, 24 percent of alcohol-impaired drivers involved in fatal accidents in the US during 2013 had a previous license revocation or suspension within the past three years, though these were not necessarily related to alcohol. Most drivers who were “under the influence” had BAC levels that were a lot higher than 0.08 percent, many above 0.15 percent. Further, it was estimated that on average, every 52 minutes during 2013 there was a traffic fatality linked to alcohol-impaired driving. The 21- to 24-year-old was the hardest hit.
The most recent national US figure for economic costs of alcohol-impaired-driving accidents relates to 2010 and amounted to $49.8 billion.
There are no available statistics for accidents or deaths relating to DUI crashes on private property.
Enforcing Traffic Laws on Private Property
In 2012, Fay McCormack, the traffic safety resource coordinator for Georgia's Prosecuting Attorneys' Council wrote an article that was published in the Georgia Traffic Prosecutor. She confirmed that in terms of the Official Code of Georgia's (OCGA's) Official Rules of the Road Title 40Motor Vehicles and Traffic, Chapter 6, law enforcement officers have the authority to issue citations and make arrests on private property in exactly the same way as they do when violations occur on highways, streets, and roads. While she did not refer specifically to DUI, she stated that “the Uniform Rules of the Road” can be enforced in parking lots, shopping centers and similar areas (including the driveways and parking lots of schools, universities, churches, and both government and private enterprises) that are privately owned, if the public uses these areas through streets or connector streets.
McCormack did specify that DUI, along with reckless driving and homicide by vehicle, is an offence in Georgia that applies to “vehicles operated on highways and elsewhere throughout the State.” She also cited several cases relating to DUI on private property.
In a 2001 DUI court case, John Madden was convicted after a resident in a mobile home community accused him of trying to run a man over with his truck. Madden appealed the conviction, but the Court of Appeals held that the Georgia DUI statute does not make any distinction between driving on public roads or private thoroughfares – which is where the offense was committed.
In a 2006 case, Kristen Simmons was convicted of driving a golf cart (on a municipal trail road in Peachtree City) under the influence of alcohol. When she appealed the conviction the court ruled that a previous 2003 case involving William Coker, who was convicted of driving a golf cart DUI in the same city (though on a public highway), had already established that a golf cart was a “vehicle” in terms of the OCGA.
An earlier 1984 case involved Johnny Lawrence Barrett who was spotted DUI in a shopping center parking lot by a police officer who recognized him and knew his driver's license had previously been suspended. Although Barrett was convicted of DUI, driving with a suspended license, and escape, the conviction for driving with a suspended license was reversed on appeal. The court acknowledged that shopping center parking lots were regarded as “public highways” in Chapter 6 of Title 40, but argued that Chapter 5 (Drivers' Licenses) did not contain a similar provision.
Arrest Procedure for DUI
Anyone arrested for DUI in Georgia, whether on private property or not, should be aware of the procedure traffic officers are required to follow.
- The driver's license will be seized and sent either to the Department of Driver Services or sent to court together with the Uniform Traffic Citation.
- Providing the driver's license is valid at the time of the DUI arrest, a temporary driving permit must be issued. This should be a 180-day permit, unless the driver refuses to undergo a blood alcohol test, in which case it will be a 30-day permit.
- An administrative suspension will be initiated unless a breath test or a blood or urine test, and these show BAC to be under 0.08 percent; or if the blood or urine test comes back positive for drugs.