Cover Image for Can a Passenger Get a DUI In Oklahoma?

Can a Passenger Get a DUI In Oklahoma?

Kaylind Landes
7 minute read

It’s a common scenario: You’ve had too much to drink, so instead of driving, you hop in the car with a friend. The problem is, they’ve been drinking too. They roll through a stop sign and you see police lights in the rear view. What should you do? Can a passenger get a DUI (Driving Under the Influence) charge in Oklahoma? The answer may not be as straightforward as you think.

Can a Passenger Get a DUI in Oklahoma?

Generally, no. To be charged with a DUI in Oklahoma, you must be driving, operating, or in actual physical control of a motor vehicle. If the vehicle is in motion, the person behind the wheel is typically the one who will be charged with a DUI, not the passenger. However, things can get tricky in certain situations when:

The Police Aren’t Sure Who Was Driving

Sometimes the police don’t actually see the car in motion. They could stop if they see a suspicious vehicle pulled over on the side of the road or be called to the scene of an accident. They’ll investigate to determine who was driving, but if multiple people claim they were driving or everyone is too intoxicated to be reliable, they still might not be sure. In these cases, they could charge everyone who was in the car with a DUI, then leave it up to the courts to decide.

You Switch Seats With the Driver

This one may seem obvious, but if you’re a passenger who is pretending to be the driver, you can be charged with a DUI. Even passengers who are under the influence might offer to switch seats and take the fall for a driver who has multiple DUIs on their record. This is never a good idea. Officers are trained to determine who was driving by looking at:

  • Seat positioning
  • Personal items on each side of the car
  • Injuries and damage to clothing
  • Witness statements
  • Dashcam footage

Once officers sort out who was really driving, the passenger may not face a DUI charge after all – but can face charges for lying to the police, obstructing justice, and even public intoxication. The actual driver will be charged with DUI, in addition to similar charges for lying.

You Let a Drunk Person Drive Your Car

Let’s say you drove your car to a party, but you’ve been drinking and don’t want to get behind the wheel. You might think it’s a good decision to let someone else drive – but not if you know they’ve been drinking too. If you knowingly let someone under the influence drive your car, the answer to the question “Can a passenger get a DUI?” could be “yes.”

You Caused the Driver to Lose Control

You’re driving along, heading home from that party. Suddenly a cat appears in front of the car. You grab the wheel to swerve, but you cause the car to crash. Or, say the driver starts falling asleep. You need to steady the wheel while you wake them up. Either of these situations could result in a DUI for a passenger. In Oklahoma, if you’re in control of a vehicle, even for a moment, you’re considered the driver under the law.

You’re Under 21

Can a passenger get a DUI if they’re under 21? The short answer is no, unless the above situations apply. But underage passengers can be charged with possession of alcohol, underage drinking or public intoxication. While these aren’t technically DUI charges, they can still lead to a suspension of your license if you’re under 21.

Is It Illegal to Be a Drunk Passenger?

DUI laws in Oklahoma only apply to the person who was in control of the vehicle. If you’re a passenger in someone else’s car, minding your own business and trying to get home for the night, you can’t be charged with a DUI. But you could be charged with something else, like:

  • Public intoxication if you are visibly drunk or high. If an officer observes bloodshot eyes or slurred speech, that’s all they need to charge you.
  • Drug possession, possession of an open container or underage possession of alcohol if the officer finds these items in the vehicle.
  • Obstruction of justice or providing false information if you try to prevent officers from doing their job or lie to them.

These charges can still result in misdemeanor or even felony convictions, depending on the severity. While it’s unlikely you’ll go to jail, you could owe fines.

Can a Passenger Have an Open Container?

No – in Oklahoma, both drivers and passengers are not allowed to have open containers of alcohol while riding in a moving vehicle. You don’t have to be drinking it. If it’s in the vehicle, you’re breaking the law. It’s the same principle that applies to having open containers on the street: When you’re on public roadways, you’re in a public place.

Having an open container of alcohol is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $500 fine. If you’re caught drinking it, that’s a separate charge that carries up to 30 days in jail and a $100 fine.

What Should a Passenger Do During a DUI Stop?

A passenger typically won’t get a DUI charge, but they could be charged with another crime. Here’s what to do during a DUI stop or any traffic stop:

  • Cooperate with officers, but remember: Both you and the driver can refuse to take a breathalyzer or a standard field sobriety test.
  • Don’t volunteer any information. You can refuse to answer questions beyond providing basic information like your name.
  • Don’t lie to the police, and don’t switch places with the driver. It’s best not to say anything at all.
  • If you’re intoxicated, don’t do anything that would give police a reason to charge you, like being argumentative.

If you’re charged with a DUI or any other crime, contact an experienced DUI lawyer right away so you can set the record straight.

The Bottom Line

While the easiest answer to “Can a passenger get a DUI in Oklahoma?” is “no,” the answer is more complicated than it may seem. If you had temporary control of the vehicle, or the police aren’t sure who was driving, you could still face a DUI. And if you’re extremely intoxicated, have anything illegal on you or get belligerent with the police, you could be charged with something other than a DUI. The Tulsa DUI Guy can help you sort through the facts and get the best outcome for your case. Contact us today to learn if we can help you get the charges dismissed or reduced.