Can you get a DUI on a Washington State Ferry

washington-state-ferries-wimax1-300x197Can you get a DUI on a Washington State Ferry?  Seems like a strange question, huh?  Seems like the right answer would be no.  Since the vehicle is on the Washington State Ferry and not on an actual road.  Well my answer might actually surprise you.  Yes, you can get a DUI while on a Washington State Ferry.  Here is how…

As a DUI Attorney in Seattle every now and then I actually come across this type of fact pattern.  A client gets arrested for a DUI while they are on a ferry.  Typically the case consists of two fact patterns:

First the driver is actually driving onto the ferry.  For some reason there is a suspicion they may be under the influence.  Either the way the vehicle is being driven, or some kind of interaction with a deck hand or State Ferry worker.  Regardless when the Ferry docks the WSP are there and waiting for the driver.  Conduct a few FSTs, maybe a PBT, and place the driver under arrest for DUI.

The second fact pattern would be if someone is on the ferry.  They start boozing it up.  When the ferry docks something about their driving raises a suspicion or a ferry worker suspected they may have consumed too much alcohol.  Either way when the driver is waiting for their turn to drive off the Ferry they are stopped and detained or maybe even stopped after they leave the Ferry.

How can this be you ask?  Doesn’t a DUI have to occur on a roadway or highway or something.  Well believe it or not.  The Washington State Ferry system is part of the scenic and recreational highway system.  RCW 47.39.020.  So technically it could be argued the Ferry route was a highway and therefore it would meet the definition of a DUI.

Now don’t get me wrong?  I don’t believe it was the intention of the State legislature to include all ferries in their definition highway for purposes of DUI Laws.  But it’s in there, and that is what a Prosecutor would argue.  And most likely a Judge would go along with it.

Now there could be some interesting legal challenges and defenses if you’re facing a DUI that occurred on a State Ferry.  First what jurisdiction did the driving occur?  Secondly if there wasn’t any driving would you be entitled to a safely off the roadway defense?  Thirdly can you actually be in physical control of a vehicle if you can’t control the movement since the Ferry system is a floating parking lot?  Lastly why were you initially detained, remember it has to satisfy the terry detention requirements?

About the author:  Matthew Leyba is a DUI lawyer in Seattle.  His practice focuses on representing those charged with DUI and other related offenses.  If you’re facing a DUI contact Leyba Defense PLLC today for a free DUI consultation.