In A Few Words
No, drinking and driving in your own driveway is against the law, with a possible exception discussed below.
This rule comes from the Michigan Supreme Court case of People v. Rea. The Court found that even a private driveway falls under the drunk driving statute.
In this case, Defendant Gino Rea drove his car out of his garage but was stopped by a police officer in the upper part of his driveway next to his house. Rea’s driveway began on the street, passed to the right of his home, and extended to a detached garage in Rea’s backyard. There was no physical barrier preventing access from the roadway onto the driveway.
The Law on Where You Cannot Drink and Drive
The drunk driving statute prohibits anyone from operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated on;
- A highway,
- A place open to the general public,
- Parking lots, or
- In a place generally accessible to motor vehicles. MCL 257.625
Rea’s driveway was neither a highway nor a place open to the general public, so the issue turned on whether the driveway was a place generally accessible to motor vehicles.
The Court said the answer depends not on whether most people can access the area or have permission to use it, but on whether most motor vehicles can access the area.
The Court looked at Rea’s driveway and decided it was generally accessible to the public. The driveway, the court said, is designed for vehicular travel, and areas designed for vehicular travel are generally accessible to motor vehicles. In addition, there was nothing to prevent a vehicle’s access to the driveway.
What Does This Ruling Mean?
The drinking and driving laws continue to expand in scope with this ruling.
We can assume that because the law defines where you cannot drink and drive, there must be some place where you could legally drink and drive. These places might be on private property completely inaccessible to the public.
The Court did focus on the fact that Rea’s driveway had nothing blocking access from the street. That means it’s possible a driveway would not be considered generally accessible to motor vehicles if the driveway had a physical barrier preventing access from the roadway. This is an academic thought, however. So please don’t read this, put up a barrier on your driveway, and start driving under the influence there.
Nevertheless, as the legislature and courts continue to expand the drinking and driving laws, the law of operating while intoxicated might one day do away with the location element of the crime.
That would mean you could be convicted for an OWI anywhere and in any place, even in your own living room.
Sam Bernstein is a criminal defense attorney in Ann Arbor.
ArborYpsi Law is located at 4158 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor, MI 48108.