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Can a passenger in a vehicle be charged with drunk driving?

Not only is getting behind the wheel when one is under the influence of alcohol or drugs a violation of the law, it also puts the individual at a greater risk of getting into an accident. College students, professionals and Georgia residents understand that these are serious consequences of drunk driving.

As a result, many individuals will choose to designate a sober driver or arrange for other transportation if they know that they will be drinking and unable to drive. But can these responsible individuals still face DUI charges if they are not in the driver's seat of a vehicle?

According to a case in Minnesota, the answer is yes. A complaint was filed against a 22-year-old woman last week claiming that the woman was drunk when she caused an accident on the highway. However, the woman was in the passenger seat when the accident occurred.

The accident occurred earlier this year when the woman was celebrating her birthday. She had been drinking with friends at a local bar and had arranged for a sober driver. When the woman left the bar, her sober friend got behind the wheel of the vehicle, the woman sat in the front passenger seat and another woman got in the rear passenger seat of the vehicle.

But when the three women were on the highway, the driver and the rear passenger of vehicle said that the woman suddenly grabbed the steering wheel and jerked the car, causing it to crash into the median.

After the accident, police reported that the driver was not over the legal limit, but the front passenger's blood-alcohol level was more than 0.21. The legal limit is 0.08. Although the woman was not in the driver's seat of the vehicle when the accident occurred, she was charged with two counts of felony criminal vehicular operation.

According to the complaint that was filed last week, the woman "was in physical control of the vehicle when she grabbed the steering wheel, causing the vehicle to crash." The woman's next court appearance has been scheduled for Dec. 23.

Source: UPI.com, "Minn. woman wasn't driving but faces DUI," Dec. 1, 2011