You have a few drinks at the bar and decide to drive home. On the way there, you notice that your car is running out of gas. You pull into a gas station, fill up and then head into the station to pay.
When you come out, a police officer has stopped at the pump next to yours. You feel nervous, so you go back into the building. Then you realize that looks suspicious, so you go back out and head to your car. The officer says hello to you, and you try to casually say hello back, but you stumble over your words.
You get in the car and turn it on. The officer is still watching you, and suddenly the alcohol hits you a little harder. You put your head down on the steering wheel. The motor is running, but the car is still in park. As you look up, the officer walks over and asks you to get out of the vehicle. You wind up getting arrested for a DUI.
How could this happen? You did not drive anywhere. The car was in park. Don't you have to be driving to get charged with driving under the influence?
Operating the car
You do not. All you have to do is "operate" the car. The law actually makes this very clear, as it specifically says:
"No person may drive or operate a motor vehicle while...under the influence of an intoxicant."
Driving is how most people get caught, but operating the car in any fashion is technically enough to violate the law. You turned the engine on. That alone is operating the vehicle in some way, and you cannot do that while drunk. That's true even if you never put the car in drive.
In this example, the situation itself also gives the officer some evidence that you broke the law. It is clear that you drove the car to the gas station. Unless you showed up sober and then went inside and got drunk, that means that you were already intoxicated when you showed up. No one is with you in the vehicle.
People have been arrested in the past for passing out in their cars at gas stations or trying to sleep in the car on the side of the road. Some of them even thought they were trying to "do the right thing" by stopping, but they had already driven to that location. Plus, if the car was running, that person still operated the vehicle, even if he or she stopped driving.
As you can see, drunk driving cases are often a bit more complex than people assume. It is crucial to know your rights and exactly what the law says.