Can I be Found Guilty for a DUI for Driving on Any Road in Pennsylvania?

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Jul 31, 2017 | 0 Comments

People who get arrested for a DUI in Pennsylvania come from diverse backgrounds.  DUI defendants can include professionals such as doctors, nurses, accountants, working-class people, college students, and so forth.  Just a DUI defendants in Pennsylvania come from diverse backgrounds, the specific facts of a person's DUI case can vary greatly. 

Common DUI Fact Patterns and the Less Common Consideration Regarding on What Kind of Road the DUI Defendant was Driving

Some DUI arrests involve more common scenarios, such as getting stopped at a DUI checkpoint, getting into an accident and having the police come upon the scene, refusing a Breathalyzer or blood test  In some instances, however, the facts of the DUI case are more unique.  Some such cases involve the question of whether a person was driving (or in actual physical control / operative control) of the vehicle (car, SUV, truck, or bicycle for example) on a highway or trafficway in Pennsylvania; a required element of a DUI offense that the prosecution must prove for a defendant to be found guilty of DUI charges.

What is considered a "highway" in a Pennsylvania DUI Case?  What is considered a "trafficway" in a Pennsylvania DUI Case?

The Pennsylvania Vehicle Code (known as "Title 75") applies only to vehicles on highways and trafficways, per 75 Pa.C.S.A. 3101(b).  With regards to Pennsylvania motor vehicle issues, and more specifically, Pennsylvania DUI cases, a "highway" is defined as: 

"The entire width between the boundary lines of every way publicly maintained when any part thereof is open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular traffic.  The term includes a roadway open to the use of the public for vehicular travel on grounds of a college or university or public or private school or public or historical park" - per 75 Pa.C.S.A. 102.

With regards to Pennsylvania motor vehicle issues, and more specifically, "trafficway" is defined as:

"The entire width between property lines or other boundary lines of every way or place of which any part is open to the public for purposes of vehicular travel as a matter of right or custom" - per 75 Pa.C.S.A. 102.

Of the two definitions, only "trafficway" has generated applicable opinions under Pennsylvania DUI law, and for better or worse, even those appellate court opinions are not always clear as to what is sufficiently open to the public to constitute a trafficway. 

Is a dirt road a trafficway in a DUI case?

In one DUI case for example, the court held that a dirt track through a field was a trafficway because the field was open to the public and occasionally used by the public for vehicular traffic.  Commonwealth v. Baughman, 357 Pa.Super. 535, 516 A.2d 390 (1986).

Is a private drive a trafficway in a DUI case?

In another case, it was decided that a private drive into a trailer park was not a trafficway when the testimony described the drive as a private road with only one entrance / exit through which access and egress could be obtained, and the road was a dead end.  In explaining its reasoning for its decision, the court did not view such a road as customarily open to the public for the purposes of vehicular traffic.  Commonwealth v. McFadden, 377 Pa.Super. 454, 547 A.2d 774 (1988).

Can I be found guilty for a DUI for driving in a parking lot in Pennsylvania?

Parking lots come in various forms; stores having parking lots, government building have parking lots, and so on.  Generally speaking, a person driving in a parking lot in Pennsylvania will, if the prosecution proves all other elements of the offense, be liable for driving under the influence in Pennsylvania, although there are some exceptions.  An effective DUI defense attorney will understand what kinds of parking lots will invoke DUI liability and what kinds of parking lots can allow for an argument that the prosecution did not prove a required element of the DUI charge. 

For example, under Pennsylvania's Motor Vehicle Code, a condominium parking lot not open to the public is not a "trafficway" or "highway," and therefore, a person driving in such a parking lot, even if under the influence, should not properly be found guilty of a DUI offense.  A parking lot used by the public (or open to the public), however, is a "trafficway," and therefore, would invoke liability for driving under the influence.  The concept of a private parking versus a public parking lot has been addressed in several Pennsylvania DUI cases that were appealed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court.  These cases include:

  • In a DUI case involving a five-story parking garage, which was open to the public on a daily basis, allowed parking in exchange for a fee.   Access to the parking spaces was obtained by removing a ticket from a dispenser, thereby causing the entrance gate to elevate.parking garage that required a fee to enter.  In deciding that the DUI defendant should properly be found guilty of driving under the influence, the Pennsylvania Superior Court concluded that [those] who have the advantage of a restricted parking facility still deserve and expect to be protected from incidents involving serious traffic offenses.   Commonwealth v. Zabierowsky, 1999 Pa.Super. 98, 730 A.2d 987 (1999).
  • In a DUI case involving an apartment building parking lot, the defendant was convicted of DUI after being arrested in the parking lot of an apartment building in which he was a tenant.  The parking lot was posted as restricted for tenants only, each had an assigned parking place, and there was only one entrance.  The Pennsylvania Superior Court, in rejecting the defendant's claim that the lot did not meet the statutory definition of a "trafficway" pursuant to 75 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 102 & 3101, concluded that even though there were signs posted restricting its use, the parking lot satisfied Section 102 of Title 75.  Commonwealth v. Cameron, 447 Pa.Super. 233, 668 A.2d 1163 (1995).
  • In a DUI involving a defendant who was alleged to be driving under the influence in the parking lot of an Elks Club, the Pennsylvania Superior Court again considered the issue of when a person driving in a parking lot will be deemed to be driving under the influence under Pennsylvania law.  In the case, the parking lot was marked with a sign designating the lot “private."  Finding that the legislature intended parking lots to be included within the definition of "trafficways," the Pennsylvania Superior Court emphasized that "it would raise form to towering levels above substance if parking lots, in which vehicular traffic is encouraged and occurs, sometimes at high rates of speed, were to become 'DWI-free zones,' in which drunk driving is tolerated from entrance to exit.  Such a construction would seriously undermine the effectiveness of any drunk driving prohibitions" [in Pennsylvania].  Commonwealth v. WIlson, 381 Pa.Super. 253, 553 A.2d 452 (1989).

An important related consideration is that when it is not clear that a particular parking is open to the public, the prosecution must establish (prove) that the parking lot is in fact open to the public. 

In addition, a parking garage constitutes a "trafficway," as does an alleyway leading to a government building.  Commonwealth v. Cozzone, 406 Pa.Super. 42, 593 A.2d. 860 (1991); Commonwealth v. Karenbauer, 393 Pa.Super. 491, 574 A.2d 716 (1990).

Philadelphia DUI Attorney | Lawyer to Fight Pennsylvania DUI Charges

If you or a loved one is charged with a DUI in Pennsylvania, an effective defense attorney must thoroughly review all evidence against the person charged, including where the DUI defendant was alleged to be driving his or her car.  As burdensome it can be for the average person to be charged with a DUI offense, there are fact patterns which will work in a person's favor which involve where the person was (or was not) driving. 

An effective defense attorney will exploit any weaknesses in the prosecution's case, including any potential arguments that the person charged was not driving on a "trafficway" or "highway," and with applicable Pennsylvania case law to support such an argument, there is the prospect to win a Dui

If facing a DUI charge in Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Berks, Lancaster, Lehigh, or Northampton County, contact attorney Joseph D. Lento today to learn how to achieve the best possible outcome.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania as well as in New Jersey and nationwide. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. With unparalleled experience occupying several roles in the criminal justice system outside of being an attorney, Joseph D. Lento can give you valuable behind-the-scenes insight as to what is happening during all phases of the legal process. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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