Tractor Pulls and Alcohol Pulls: Drunk Driving on Private Property

The urban dictionary defines an alcohol pull as “taking a swig of alcohol, directly from the bottle.” This type of alcohol consumption usually leads to some wild stories.

Tractor pulling, on the other hand, is a competitive motorsport in which modified farm tractors, modified tractors or trucks drag a metal sled along a prescribed course. Unfortunately, not everyone can afford the expenses of the “world’s heaviest motorsport.” This is why low-stakes, private back road to an empty farm field, truck pull competitions also make for wild stories.

Is drunk tractor pulling reckless and dangerous like drunk driving? Absolutely.

Is it illegal? Not necessarily because most of the time, it is done on that private back road or that private farm field.

The DUI laws of all states prohibit driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol on public streets and highways. But whether you can get a DUI for operating a vehicle while drunk on private property depends on what state you live in and the type of private property that you are occupying.

Private Property – Open to the Public

Some states have expansive DUI statutes to include driving under the influence anywhere in the state. These statutes make no distinction between driving on public and private property, and courts often find DUI laws apply to both. For example, both Kentucky and Mississippi’s DUI laws say it’s unlawful to drive under the influence anywhere within the state.

Current California Vehicle Code 23152 prohibits a person to drive a vehicle while under the influence, without any reference to location. However, before its amendment in 1982, the law prohibited driving under the influence while driving on California highways or other areas “open to the general public.”

Similar to California’s pre-1982 law, Texas law states that it’s illegal to drive in a “public place” while intoxicated. Texas law goes further to define a public place as “any place to which the public or a substantial group of the public has access.” The definition includes streets, highways, and “common areas” of schools, hospitals, apartment houses, office buildings, transport facilities, and shops. It follows then that you can get a DUI on private property.

In 1982, however, the California legislature removed any language referring to the specific locations where a person could be arrested for a DUI. Courts subsequently concluded that it was the intent of the legislature that, by removing that language, the law prohibiting drunk driving could extend to anywhere in California that could pose a danger to the public, including some private property.

Private Property – Not Open to Public

The practical effect of California’s current DUI law means that a person can get a DUI even if they are on land not designated as a public road.

While law enforcement can issue citations for DUI on lands other than highways that are open and accessible to the public it cannot issue citations for DUI on private lands under the immediate control of the owner or his or her agent where permission is required and has been granted to operate a motor vehicle.

However, if the land is accessible to the public and is not within the immediate control of the owner, you can still be cited for DUI. This essentially gives the police the authority to arrest and charge you with driving under the influence in the parking lot of your favorite restaurant or nightclub.

Would hosting a truck pulling competition on private property where people are drinking fall under the private property exception? It is rather unlikely that a person would be able to defeat a DUI charge in this situation given the nature of the activity. But it would also seem as though it would depend on whether the “competition” was open to the public, even if it is on private property. Perhaps a DUI charge stemming from a competition on private property would be better fought if the officer did not have the authority to enter the property in the first place.

Although it is less likely that you will be stopped by an officer on private property than on a public road, California DUI laws are far-reaching and are intended to prevent people from creating a risk to themselves or others. Laws like these have started to gain popularity because of accidents on rural or remote private property. In Arkansas, for example, the House greenlighted a new piece of legislation that would give the authorities the right to test blood alcohol levels of farm equipment drivers if injury or death occurs as a result of a farming accident. In Iowa, a driver can be arrested on the charge of “Operating While Intoxicated.” While it is the functional equivalent to California’s “Driving Under the Influence,” the use of the word “operating” instead of “driving” is broader and applies to the operation of any motorized vehicle on any type of land, public or private.

In California, DUIs carry strict consequences. It is important to consider that a situation like the one described above might be considered an aggravating factor. Aggravating factors include, but are not limited to, reckless driving, excessive speeds, threat of great injury to others, and property damage. These considerations can warrant an even greater punishment.

While it is not advisable to engage in dangerous activities like those listed above, sometimes mistakes happen. If you find yourself fighting a DUI battle related to what has been discussed here, it is important that you not only know your rights but that you find a knowledgeable attorney who can help you navigate such an intricate area of law.

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