What Happens if Someone Gets a DUI in Your Car?

Feb 15, 2017

No one wants to experience a DUI arrest. Even without the added blur of alcohol, the process is confusing, stressful, and sobering for both the driver and any passengers. But what happens if someone gets a DUI driving your car? Whether you are present or not, it will have profound implications on you, your license, your insurance, and may even result in the mandatory installation of a car breathalyzer. As a vehicle owner, this is the kind of news that you dread, but it is crucial to be prepared for it.

What Happens if Someone Gets a DUI in Your Car?

Should you find yourself in this situation there will be one all-important question occupying your mind: Does this mean I’ll be convicted? In reality, it depends entirely on your situation. Regardless of the circumstances, you will be required to give a testimony that recounts the precise details and reasons that led to the convicted driver being behind the wheel. 

Initial questions an officer might ask include:

  • Were you (the vehicle owner) present in the car while the driver was intoxicated?
  • If yes, were you equally intoxicated, more so, or sober?
  • If no, why were they in possession of your car without you?

If the driver tests positive for a blood alcohol content of over 0.08, then they’ll be convicted on the grounds of driving while intoxicated. Since you were not driving at the time, you won’t be affected by the same DUI charge. However, depending on the circumstances you might still be eligible of a conviction on one of the following bases:

  • You are charged on the grounds of negligence. 
  • You are charged on the grounds that you helped steer, brake, or drive the vehicle in any way.
  • You receive an accessory charge for enabling the crime. 
  • You are charged with supplying alcohol to a minor.
  • You are arrested for public intoxication.

What Constitutes as An Accessory Charges?

Although you did not commit the crime, evidence of any kind of coercion might land you with an Accessory Charge. Examples of this include:

  • Sharing responsibility – More than simply loaning your car, the drunk driver was performing a specific task, on your behalf, and at your request. 
  • Aware of the driver’s drunken state – You were clearly aware of drunk driver’s state under the influence, and still encouraged them to get behind the wheel. If they can prove that you actively encouraged them to drink, this can cause severe ramifications. 
  • Drunken Coercion – You were present in the vehicle and also under the influence. The drunk driver was driving upon your instruction since you were aware of your own limits. 

What Constitutes as Negligent Entrustment

There are two potential circumstances under which one could be accused of negligent entrustment:

  • The convicted party might sue you on behalf of negligent entrustment of your vehicle. In such cases, they’ll attempt to prove that you were conscious of the fact that they were not fit to drive, and yet still encouraged them to do so. 
  • Law enforcement could convict you on the same grounds, or if it became clear that the driver was operating under specific instruction from you.

But What if I’m Innocent?

Sometimes, there are mitigating circumstances that are beyond your control and that don’t warrant a charge. The police are aware of this and sympathetic towards it. In the case of complete exoneration, the worst you’ll walk away with is some minor inconvenience and some potential fines. 

Vehicle Code 10851

Under the circumstances of a Vehicle Code 10851 offense, the vehicle owner cannot be charged on the grounds of negligence or other. Section A states, 

Any person who drives or takes a vehicle not his or her own, without the consent of the owner thereof, and with intent either to permanently or temporarily deprive the owner thereof of his or her title to or possession of the vehicle, whether with or without intent to steal the vehicle, or any person who is a party or an accessory to or an accomplice in the driving or unauthorized taking or stealing, is guilty of a public offense and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year or pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 of the Penal Code or by a fine of not more than five thousand dollars ($5,000), or by both the fine and imprisonment.

The two primary examples of this would be:

  1. Joyriding – The unlawful taking of a vehicle, the intent or purpose of which would be temporary, albeit without return.
  1. Grand Theft Auto – The theft of a vehicle, the intent of which would be permanent, as in the case of resale. 

In both of these instances, negligence is ruled out since the car owner had no foresight into the use and or whereabouts of the car at the time of the arrest.

The Realities

While one must be alert to the possibility of a conviction, it requires a very specific set of circumstances. In all likelihood, the end result will be a financial headache and a pile of painful administrative paperwork that needs attending to. 

Typically, the immediate implications are:

  • In the case of a crash, maintenance work on the vehicle body will be necessary.
  • In the case of an impounded vehicle, release fees, paperwork and vehicle pickup.
  • Jeopardy to your insurance, and a potential increase in premiums. 

Insurance Factors

In the event of a collision, knowing the specifications of your insurance coverage is going to be key. Some important questions that you should immediately address:

  • Does the driver have third party insurance? –  Ask the driver about their insurance policy before lending your vehicle. Can they prove that they have DOC (driving other cars) coverage? If not, think twice about letting them get behind the wheel of your vehicle since they are not technically insured to do so. While they might be insured on their own car, their coverage does not extend to yours. Be aware that not every auto insurance company offers this as an automatic coverage. Often you need to ask explicitly for it as well as pay some additional fees. 
  • How much vehicle damage occurred? – There are numerous reasons that the police might have pulled the driver over, including reckless speeding, swerving, or a collision. If the driver has caused damage to your car, make it a priority to get an estimate on repairs.
  • What is my insurance deductible? –  Your insurance deductible is a pre-negotiated cost that you must pay before your insurance kicks in. For example, the damages from your collision might come to $25,000, and your deductible might require you to pay the initial $5000. 
  • How will this incident affect my insurance premium? – A DUI will undoubtedly affect your insurance status, no matter who’s responsible for it. Even in the case of a guest driver, it’s possible that your insurance coverage might drop you altogether. Regardless, it will certainly have an impact on your premium, which is the annual rate through which you secure your coverage. 

Your premium will increase or deflate depending on whether the insurer perceives you to be a liability or partly at fault for the incident. From their perspective, a DUI in your vehicle is a sign of recklessness and makes you a riskier customer. Age is another commonplace variable known to impact your insurance premium, meaning that gaining a DUI in your 20s will have a much larger impact on your insurance costs than a driver in their 50s. 

Impact on Interlock Systems

If you have a court-ordered interlock on your vehicle, you are responsible for any breath samples in your car. Should another intoxicated passenger be using your vehicle, they will still need to pass your interlock test in order to start the car. If someone else provides a failed breath sample, causing the interlock to prevent the car from turning on, then you, as the vehicle owner, are responsible for the consequences. Unless proven otherwise, the failed test will be attributed to the interlock owner, not a guest driver.

Repeated failure of an ignition interlock device can result in the following:

  • A fine
  • A license suspension
  • A misdemeanor charge
  • A felony charge 
  • Jail time (State by State variants)
  • Extension of the device 

What About Minors?

Currently, one hotly debated topic is the consequence of accompanying a minor while under the influence. [National Road Traffic regulation 99]. When a minor receives their learner’s permit, it’s mandatory that they drive accompanied by an adult over the age of 25, until they reach legal adulthood. But if that chaperone figure is drunk, what happens? 

The answer to that is legally ambiguous. While it doesn’t exactly count as a DUI felony, the police suggest that they’ll work hard to find a reason for conviction, given the irresponsibility of the situation. You should certainly think twice before appointing a minor to be your designated driver.

Underage Drivers

The most dire circumstances that you must be aware of, are the cases of underage drivers. The law states that there’s a zero-tolerance on drunken minors. This means that the traditional 0.08 BAC count doesn’t apply; if a teen is pulled over with a reading of 0.02, they will still be charged on the grounds of driving while intoxicated. In addition to a tainted license, youths convicted of drinking and driving will likely face the following:

  • Insurance premium increase of at least 110%.
  • Hefty fines, as high as several thousand dollars. 
  • Required classes on substance and alcohol abuse.
  • An ignition interlock device to test sobriety in their personal vehicle.
  • Prison time.
  • Community service.
  • Tainted reputation in school records or college applications.

How Do I Prevent Someone Getting a DUI in My Car?

As a motor vehicle owner, you are not only responsible for your own actions as a driver, but vetting the behavior of other drivers you might choose to lend your vehicle to. Some crucial steps to lowering the risk of someone getting a DUI include the following:

  • Vetting the driver – Does the driver have a previous DUI? Have they had a history of alcohol or substance abuse in the past? Have you witnessed them driving? Can you vouch for their skills and safety on the road?
  • Know where your car is – Don’t lend your vehicle for a long period of time, especially if you are not going to know the exact use or whereabouts of it. Don’t leave your keys in a place that is liable for friends, your children or thieves. Limit the number of strangers who drive your car, by avoiding valet use and other services. Stay on-site if your car is being detailed or serviced. 

At the End of the Day

At the end of the day, were a tragedy to occur, it would be devastating to live with the consequences of knowing you could have done something to prevent it. Anyways, enabling a DUI, even if the conviction doesn’t directly affect you, is a huge deal. Sharing your vehicle should not be taken lightly, especially if you have an interlock device installed. Only do so if you can absolutely vouch for the character of the driver, and guarantee that they can take care of your vehicle in the same way that you do. 

If you know that you are going to be drinking and unable to drive yourself home, the chances are that others in your environment will be over the limit too. Be smart. Opt to take an Uber or public transport, and limit the potential circumstances where someone might drive your vehicle.

Sources 

National Road Traffic Amendment – NATIONAL ROAD TRAFFIC ACT 93 OF 1996

https://static1.squarespace.com/static/53f5fb7ce4b0cab4a7fe8561/t/53fcda1ee4b075777f4bf4f6/1409079838807/8.National+Roads+Act+%28Act+93+of+1996%29.pdf

California Legislative Information – DIVISION 4. SPECIAL ANTITHEFT LAWS [10500 – 10904

https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?lawCode=VEH&sectionNum=10851

US Law Network Inc – State of California Transportation Compendium of Law

http://www.uslaw.org/files/public/ca_transportation_09.pdf

DMV – Interlock Ignition Device

https://www.dmv.org/automotive-law/dui/ignition-interlock-device.php

CDC – Impaired Driving: Get The Facts

https://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/impaired_driving/impaired-drv_factsheet.html

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