When you leave a North Carolina bar or restaurant after having a few drinks, what you do next may make the difference between a DWI charge and a safe trip home. There are typically several options: call a cab, open a ride-sharing service app and hail a ride or get in the car with a designated driver. What may seem like an equally good option, getting in the car and sleeping off the alcohol, could actually be a bad idea in some situations.

According to North Carolina statute § 20-4.01, the law considers a person to be the operator of a vehicle if he or she is in actual physical control and the vehicle is moving, or if he or she is in actual physical control and the engine is running. The law considers the words “driver” and “operator” to be synonymous. Therefore, you may be an operator of the vehicle even if the vehicle is not moving.

So, if it is a cold evening and you get behind the wheel and turn on the vehicle in order to run the heater, an officer may argue that you may have intended to drive away, or that you may have driven to that particular place and stopped. Either way, the officer may ask you to take a breath test. In North Carolina, drivers provide implied consent when they receive a driver’s license. Refusing to take the test could result in a one-year license suspension.

There are a number of different factors that may affect whether you face DWI charges for operating your vehicle while intoxicated in this and similar situations; therefore, this information should not be interpreted as legal advice.