Can you get a DUI on a Washington State ferry?

If you live in Western Washington than chances are you have taken a ferry in your life.  Whether you live on one of the islands and you needed to come to Seattle, or you just want to take a day trip.  The Washington State ferry system is incredibly convenient and can be like a mini vacation.  Which brings me to the question I posed in the title, “Can you get a DUI on a Washington State ferry?”

There are probably two instances when they may come up.  Either an individual drives onto the ferry and they have consumed alcohol or a driver decides to have a few drinks while on the ferry and then gets into their car when it ports.  Can either one of these scenarios result in a DUI arrest?  The answer is absolutely yes it can.

How is that possibly you ask?  The Ferry is on water, doesn’t a DUI have to occur on a roadway.  Yes, typically a DUI does occur on a roadway.  However the Prosecution can get around the two scenarios I provided above fairly easily in order to provide a DUI or DUI related offense.

For example let’s say one of the traffic control workers directing traffic onto the ferry witnesses some poor driving indicative of alcohol impairment.  The traffic controller witnesses this driving as the vehicle is boarding the ferry.  Simply seeing the driver on the road as the vehicle boards the ferry would be enough to prove the driving occurred on a road.

Secondly let’s say a driver gets onto the ferry.  While the ferry is on the water they head up to the top deck and have a couple of drinks.  A ferry worker observes the driver pounding a few too many beers, stumbling around, and gets inside their vehicle.  The ferry worker could contact the State patrol and have the driver contacted as soon as the ferry docks.  Arguably this would be enough evidence for that driver to be arrested for DUI/Physical control simply for sitting in the vehicle and being in physical control if it meaning they had the capability to operate the vehicle.

So what happens if a ferry worker doesn’t see the vehicle board the ferry.  But after the vehicle is on the ferry as the driver is being directed where to park signs of impairment is exhibited (i.e., a collision occurs). Could this person be arrested for a DUI?  After all these observations were made on the water not a an actual roadway.  Unfortunately the Washington State legislature is determined that all State ferry routes are part of the highway system under RCW 47.39.020.  So a Prosecutor could argue under that statute this driving occurred under the highway system and therefore a DUI can occur.

Now these are a just a few examples I could think of off the top of my head for purposes of this blog post.  It doesn’t mean a driver would be convicted of a DUI or there aren’t any legal defenses that could be asserted such a safely off the roadway, etc.  If you find yourself in one of the above scenarios it would be best to contact an experienced DUI attorney for advice.

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About the author:  Matthew Leyba is a Seattle DUI Attorney.  He has been named one of the top 40 under 40 criminal defense lawyers in Washington State by the American Society of Legal Scholars.  Additionally he has been repeatedly named a Rising Star in the area of DUI Defense by the Seattle Met Magazine, an honor less than 2.5% of all lawyers receive.

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