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

The majority of Pennsylvania traffic laws, like stopping at stop signs and using turn signals when turning, only apply when a person is driving on a “highway.”  The technical definition of “highway” is 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.”  (See 75 Pa.C.S.A. 102).  What does this mean?  In general terms, a “highway” is a normal road.

Pennsylvania DUI Law Applies to Highways and Trafficways

While most traffic laws only apply to highways, some more serious offenses, like passing a school bus illegally or driving under the influence, also apply to driving a vehicle on a “trafficway.”  The 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.”  (See 75 Pa.C.S.A. 102).  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, such as parking garages and parking lots.  For example, the Pennsylvania courts have repeatedly stated that both normal parking garages and parking lots are trafficways because 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)).  However, if the parking lot was gated and allowed only limited access, then 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 gated, permitted only limited access, and thereby was not a “trafficway.”  Because the base was not a trafficway, the court dismissed the DUI charges against the man.  While the man could not be prosecuted in Pennsylvania for a DUI, that would not mean that the Federal government could not bring Federal charges because the incident happened on Federal property.

Private Property Can Be a Trafficway

Many people believe that they cannot be charged with driving under the influence if they are driving or parked on private property.  Most parking lots are privately owned by a store, but, because they are trafficways, a person can be charged with a DUI for driving in those areas while under the influence.  This does not mean that the police can file charges for a person that is driving while under the influence in a privately owned driveway or lane.  Such areas would not be a trafficway.  However, the road through a private development could be a trafficway unless the community were gated and thereby limited public access.  Specifically what is a trafficway and what is not a trafficway must sometimes be determined on a case-by-case basis, and, in such instances, it is critically important to be represented by an experienced criminal defense lawyer.