A driving under the influence (DUI) charge, called operating while intoxicated (OWI) in Michigan, is a serious crime. Police officers will typically arrest a drunk driver at the scene if they fail the field sobriety tests or preliminary breath test (PBT).

However, what happens if you are just riding in the car? Can you face consequences for being a passenger in the car of a drunk driver?

Criminal liability for passenger of DUI arrest

According to Michigan law, if you are simply riding in the passenger seat with a drunk driver during a traffic stop, then you are not criminally liable in a drunk driving arrest. However, you can be found criminally liable if you are found guilty of one or more of the following:

●      Consuming alcohol in a motor vehicle

●      Providing alcohol to the driver of the vehicle

Additionally, if you are alone and are found to be drunk in the driver’s seat of a parked car, you can still be charged with a DUI. The police officer figures that you have to have gotten to the scene somehow. It can be more complicated if the driver is sleeping in the parked car. 

Nonetheless, the officer will ask how the driver got to the scene. If the driver admits he drove to the location and that they drank alcohol before driving, the officer will likely follow up with a breath alcohol test. It does not matter if the officer did not see the person driving. The circumstantial evidence of driving while intoxicated is enough.

Answering police questioning

As a passenger in the vehicle of a drunk driver, the arresting officer will assess your intoxication level. If your blood alcohol level is not over 0.08, you may be asked why you did not take the wheel once it became clear that the driver was too intoxicated to drive. In this case, you must give a convincing answer.

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You will need to prove that you are currently not licensed to drive. Or, have a medical condition or legal restriction that prevents you from driving at certain times of day. If you cannot offer a convincing reason, then the officer can arrest you and charge you with reckless endangerment. Their case can be made even more if there are other passengers in the vehicle.

While this is unlikely to occur, you must be smart about your choice to enter the vehicle with someone who is intoxicated. Refusing to submit a chemical test violates Michigan’s “Implied Consent” laws.

Can you drive off with the car?

If the police officer is planning to let you go but take the driver of the vehicle into custody, you may be able to drive the vehicle if you are found to be sober and have a valid driver’s license. However, the arresting officer may want to keep the vehicle at the police station for evidence or civil asset forfeiture.

In this case, you may be allowed to ride in the tow truck that brings the vehicle to the impound lot and then transported back to your residence by a police offers. Alternatively, you may also call an Uber/Lyft.

Driver cannot consent to search passenger belongings

As of April 10, 2019, a driver consenting to searching passenger belongings is unconstitutional according to the Michigan Supreme Court opinion in People v. Mead.

Contact an experienced DUI lawyer

A DUI conviction is scary, intimidating and overwhelming. You are at risk of losing your car, license, money, job and more. For this reason, you need a skilled DUI attorney on your side. Contact our offices in Royal Oak today for a free consultation at (248) 541-2600.