How can I be charged with a DUI if I was driving on private property and not on a highway?

By Jason Dunkle on G+

The majority of Vehicle Code regulations, like the requirements to stop at stop signs and use turn signals when turning, only apply when a person is operating a vehicle on a "highway." A "highway" is defined in 75 Pa.C.S. § 102 as being the "entire width between the boundary lines of every way publicly maintained when any part thereof is open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel" and includes "a roadway open to the use of the public for vehicular travel on grounds of a college or university or public or private school or public or historical park." In general terms, a highway is road.

Pennsylvania DUI Law Applies to Highways and Trafficways

While the majority of Vehicle Code violations only apply when operating a vehicle on highways in Pennsylvania, section 3101 of the Vehicle Code provides that serious traffic offenses such as passing a school bus under 75 Pa.C.S. § 3345, or violations of Chapters 37 and 38 of Vehicle Code, apply to operation of vehicles on both highways and trafficways. Driving Under the Influence (DUI), is found in Chapter 38 of the Vehicle Code, which means that a person can be charged with DUI if he or she operates a vehicle on either a highway or trafficway. Pennsylvania law defines "trafficway" as "the entire width between property lines or other boundary lines of every way or place of which any part is open to the public for purposes of vehicular travel as a matter of right or custom." To simplify the definition, trafficway generally means an area in which people operate vehicles that is open to the public as a matter of right or custom.

DUIs in Parking Garages and Parking Lots

The definition of "trafficway" gives us a start, and over the years courts have considered different cases to explain what is and is not a trafficway. For example, the Pennsylvania courts have repeatedly stated that both normal parking garages and parking lots are trafficways as they are generally open to the public. See Commonwealth v. Zabierowsky, 730 A.2d 987 (Pa. Super. 1999); Commonwealth v. Cameron, 668 A.2d 1163 (Pa. Super. 1995). Obviously, if the parking lot was gated and allowed limited access, an argument could be made that it was not customarily open to the public and thereby did not constitute a trafficway. For example, in the case of Commonwealth v. Wyland 987 A.2d 802 (Pa. Super. 2010), a Pennsylvania court held that an Air Force base was not a "trafficway" because the base was not generally open to the public.

Private Property Can Be a Trafficway

The definition of trafficway and cases interpreting that word show that it can apply to private property. Some people believe that they cannot get a DUI charge if parked at a store or bar and thereby on private property. That belief is wrong and is not a valid defense to a DUI charge. If charged with a DUI, it is important to have an experienced DUI defense attorney review the case to determine whether the case can be challenged.