If a person were to go out drinking, head back to their car, leave the keys on the front seat, the engine off and get in the back to sleep it off, would they have comitted an offense?

There appears to be a significant amount of contradictory information on this issue, particularly surrounding the "drunk in charge" offense so it's not at all clear to me.

1 Answer 1


This would probably not be a drunk driving offense.

Under the UK "drunk in charge of a motor vehicle" law:

How is “in charge” defined?

There is no definition of “in charge” and the courts have been keen to avoid an all-embracing test.

In determining if a person is in charge the court will consider:

Whether he was in the vehicle, if so where, or how far he was from it;

What he was doing at the time;

Whether he was in possession of the key for the ignition;

Whether there was any evidence of an intention to take some form of control of the vehicle;

Whether any person was in or near the vehicle and if so the particulars of that person.

You could also be prosecuted if you are found in the passenger seat or the back seats. You do not have to be sitting in the driver’s seat to be considered “in charge”.

However those that own or lawfully are in possession of the vehicle or have recently driven it are deemed to remain in charge unless it can be shown:

that they had put the vehicle into someone else’s charge

or can establish that they had ceased to be in control AND there was no realistic prospect of resuming control whilst unfit.

Are there defences available?

The law states that someone cannot be convicted of an “in charge” offence if they can prove there was no intention and / or likelihood of the vehicle being driven whilst the driver was over the prescribed limit.

Unlike many other offences, with the offence of being drunk in charge, the accused must prove that they did not have any intention to drive the vehicle. The prosecution is not required to prove that the accused was likely to drive whilst unfit or over the limit.

A defence is available if it can be shown that there was no likelihood of driving whilst over the prescribed limit and doing this should be established by expert scientific evidence or compelling circumstantial evidence. These defences are known as “statutory defences”.

Section 5 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 states:

“The defendant must prove that it was more likely than not that he had no intention of driving whilst the level of alcohol in his breath, blood or urine remained above the prescribed limit in which case, he is not considered to be in charge”.

Our question is, if you "leave the keys on the front seat, the engine off and get in the back to sleep it off, would they have comitted an offense?"

Since the person in the question had an intent to "sleep it off" rather than to operate the car while under the influence, he (or she) has not committed an offense. The burden of proof would be on him (or her) to establish that intent, but sleeping in the backseat with the engine off and the keys out of the ignition in the front seat, would be pretty compelling circumstantial evidence of a lack of an intent to operate the car while under the influence.

There might also very well be a local ordinance prohibiting sleeping in a car in a particular place, but it wouldn't be a traffic violation.

  • 3
    This answer doesn't just stand to benefit from citing a source, it needs a source. This is dependent on location and state laws, and OP has specifically mentioned that there is an abundance of hearsay about this. Confusion about this matter can cause life-changing arrests, so answers shouldn't sound authoritative without a source to back it up.
    – Hemsy19
    May 11, 2018 at 17:51
  • 3
    @Hemsy19 It is dependent upon U.K. laws (probably England and Wales, rather than other parts of the U.K. since that is what people usually mean when they don't designate) not state laws. It isn't supported by a citation and it would be a better answer if it was (which doesn't make it "hearsay", which is restating a statement that you heard someone else say - if I said "BBC2 News said . . . " that would be hearsay, which isn't always unreliable). But, it often it is helpful to have some answer even if it isn't a perfect one, and I am quite confident in this answer which is why I made it anyway.
    – ohwilleke
    May 11, 2018 at 17:56
  • It is quite likely that someone who had been drinking to excess would be over the legal limit on awaking the following morning. Depending on the time, and the amount of alcohol consumed, establishing the intent to "sleep it off" might be insufficient.
    – richardb
    May 11, 2018 at 21:30
  • @richardb The question actually asks if the offense was committed and since we are told the intent, we don't have to guess, we know that an offense wasn't committed, even if the odds of successfully proving that at trial aren't 100%.
    – ohwilleke
    May 12, 2018 at 1:55
  • @richardb would having a portable breathalyser (the kind used in France) in your posession be sufficient to overcome this issue?
    – user175
    May 15, 2018 at 14:08

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