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DWI Law Applies On Roadways Both Public and Private (like parking lots)

by Seth Azria on 7/18/2018

DWI Laws Apply on Private Property

 At first glance, it may appear that state DWI laws should not apply to private property, like a parking lot. If you owned a business with a parking lot, you might think it would be ok for you to do just about anything on that property. 

Or, if you were a defense lawyer, you might argue that the state laws should not apply to that private parking lot because the town or village had not enacted a law or ordinance authorizing the application of the New York law to that private parking lot. 

The law, however, is often applied in ways not readily apparent. 

What the DWI Cases Tell Us 

Trail Court Says the Driver is Safe 

For example,  a police officer witnessed a driver starting and stopping unsafely in a grocery store parking lot. The officer entered the lot, determined the driver to be intoxicated and charged him DWI. The trial court, citing a section of law in support,  dismissed the case based on the defense attorney's argument above - that the town had not authorized the law to apply to that private parking lot. People v Murphy, 169 Misc. 357 [1996].

Appeals Court Says No Parking Lots Are Covered by DWI Laws

The Appellate Court disagreed and cited another law that stated the New York Vehicle and Traffic Law applied to “public highways, private roads open to public motor vehicle traffic and any other parking lot.” The Appellate Court also decided that, while the village may regulate traffic, that town or village does not have exclusive authority to do so. The Court underlined its ruling further by observing that the DWI itself reads:  

"For the purposes of this section “parking lot” shall mean any area or areas of private property, including a driveway, near or contiguous to and provided in connection with premises and used as a means of access to and egress from a public highway to such premises and having a capacity for the parking of four or more motor vehicles."

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