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While drivers generally understand that is against the law to drive while under the influence of drugs or alcohol on public roads or highways in California, many people believe that you can drive drunk on private roads or on private property. However, this is not the case and people can still be arrested for DUI even if they are not driving on a public road. Under California Vehicle Code Section 23215, law enforcement agencies are authorized to enforce the DUI laws in connection with offenses occurring in areas that are not public roads or highways.
Before 1982, the specific language of California Vehicle Code Section 23152 made it illegal to drive while under the influence of alcohol on California highways or other areas open to the general public. Under this statutory language, a person who was drinking and driving on a private road or on private property theoretically would not be in violation of the DUI laws. However, the law was changed in 1982 to remove the language limiting DUI laws to areas open to the general public. Presently, California Vehicle Code 23152 prohibits impaired driving and makes no reference to the location where the driving conduct occurs.
The California Court of Appeals addressed this issue directly in the People v. Malvitz case in 1992. This case involved a driver who was arrested for DUI while driving on the grounds of a locked storage facility. The defense argued that the DUI laws should not apply because he was not on a public road or highway, but instead was driving entirely on private property. The Court upheld the defendant’s conviction and found that California Vehicle Code Section 23152 would apply to offenses committed on public property. The Court found that the dangers posed by impaired driving outweighed the concerns over whether a road was public or private.
A person can be arrested for a DUI offense whenever he or she is driving on public or private property. Law enforcement can patrol, stop vehicles and issue citations on lands and areas other than public highways that are accessible to the public. This would not apply to private property that is under the immediate control of an owner who has granted specific permission to someone to operate a motor vehicle on that private property. This greatly limits the amount of private property that would be immune from law enforcement scrutiny. If the land is publicly accessible, the driver can still be stopped, investigated and arrested for DUI. This means that a driver can be stopped and arrested for DUI even if he or she is in a parking lot or a restaurant drive-through. These are examples of private property that are open and accessible to the public and drivers can be stopped for DUI here. A driver who is driving on a private road located in a fenced, private estate would likely not be arrested for DUI, but only because law enforcement does not patrol these areas and there would not be DUI patrols or checkpoints present.