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What is RCW 46.51.504 Physical Control and How is It Different From DUI?

What is RCW 46.51.504 Physical Control and How is It Different From DUI? In Washington State, the law against driving under the influence (DUI) is found in RCW 46.61.502. However, there is also another law known as "physical control" of a vehicle while under the influence. This law is found in RCW 46.61.504 and it makes it illegal for a person to be in physical control of a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

The key difference between DUI and physical control of a vehicle while under the influence is that the DUI law applies to people who are actually driving a vehicle, while the physical control law applies to people who are in control of a vehicle, but not necessarily driving it. For example, if a person is found passed out in the driver's seat of a parked car with the keys in the ignition, they can be charged with physical control of a vehicle while under the influence, even if they were not driving the car at the time.

In many ways, it is easier for the prosecutor to prove Physical Control rather than DUI. In order to be convicted of DUI, the prosecution must prove that the defendant was actually driving the vehicle while under the influence. In physical control, the prosecution must prove that the defendant had the potential to operate the vehicle while under the influence.

However, Physical control does have a defense of “safely off the roadway.” The defense is based on the idea that if a person is found to be under the influence while “in control” of a vehicle that is safely off the roadway, they should not be convicted. To successfully use the "safely off the roadway" defense, the defendant must show that they were not driving on a roadway or highway at the time they were found to be under the influence. This may include showing that the vehicle was parked on the side of a roadway or highway, but not blocking traffic or creating a danger.

It is also worth noting that, like DUI, physical control also includes a provision known as "implied consent", meaning that any person who is in physical control of a vehicle in the state is deemed to have given their consent to a chemical test of their breath, blood, or urine if they are arrested for physical control.

Also, like regular DUI, Physical Control also has a provision known as "administrative license suspension" (ALS), which allows the police forward the information to the Department of Licensing (DOL) who will then suspend or revoke the driver's license. This is a separate process from the criminal court process and it is intended to provide an immediate and effective tool to take dangerous drivers off the road.

In summary, the law of physical control of a vehicle while under the influence in Washington State is different from DUI in that it applies to people who are in control of a vehicle but not necessarily driving it.

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