As with most legal questions, the answer to this question is “it depends.” While sleeping in a car is not a crime, it can become a crime under certain situations. If you fall asleep while actively driving your car, that can lead to serious traffic tickets and criminal charges, whether or not you actually cause an accident. As for sleeping in a car instead of driving drunk, you could actually still face DWI charges in New Jersey by sleeping in your car. For a free consultation on these or any other criminal charges, talk to the Atlantic City criminal defense lawyers at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych. Our attorneys have over 30 years of experience helping people who have been charged with DWI and other traffic offenses in New Jersey.
Charges for Falling Asleep at the Wheel in NJ
If you are tired, but still have a long drive ahead of you, we cannot stress enough that you should pull over and avoid driving. Tired driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving, especially since it slows your reaction time and may cause you to completely lose control of your vehicle. If you are too tired to drive, consider switching with another driver or finding somewhere to sleep for the night.
If you already were arrested or ticketed for tired driving or falling asleep behind the wheel, this advice is too late. There are a few ways that you could receive a traffic ticket or be charged with tired driving, but the most popular law that police point to to punish tired driving is New Jersey’s reckless driving statute. N.J.S.A. § 29:4-96 punishes those who drive “heedlessly, in willful or wanton disregard of the rights or safety of others, in a manner so as to endanger, or be likely to endanger, a person or property.” Note that this definition does not require that there actually be danger, but just that there is a risk of endangering others – or even just a risk of endangering property.
Reading this definition, you may not think it automatically applies to tired driving. However, there is another statute that separately punishes “careless” driving that could apply instead. Under N.J.S.A., it is a ticketable offense to drive “carelessly, or without due caution and circumspection, in a manner so as to endanger, or be likely to endanger, a person or property.” If tired driving is not considered “reckless,” it may be considered “careless,” instead.
If your tired driving does cause an accident, you may be charged with a number of crimes for any injuries or deaths you cause. First, this could qualify as “endangering another person” under N.J.S.A. § 2C:24-7.1. This statute makes it illegal to “recklessly endanger” or “[create] a substantial risk of bodily injury to another person.” Hitting someone with your car while literally asleep (or even nodding-off) may be reckless enough to violate this statute. If you have been charged with homicide due to a vehicular accident, contact our experienced New Jersey vehicular homicide defense attorneys today to ensure the best representation.
Lastly, if you cause an accident that kills another person, you may automatically be charged with a first degree crime. “Death by auto” under N.J.S.A. § 2C:11-5 is a vehicular homicide statute that punishes a car crash death as murder in some situations. One clear rule in this statute is that when the driver has been awake for more than 24 hours before driving it is automatically “reckless” driving. This rule is called “Maggie’s Law,” and was named after the victim of a fatal tired driving accident. To avoid running afoul of this law, always be sure to avoid driving tired, and only get behind the wheel after a good night’s rest.
Can I Get a DWI for Sleeping in my Car in NJ?
It may come as a surprise to many, but sleeping in your car can lead to driving while intoxicated (DWI) charges in New Jersey. New Jersey’s DWI statute, N.J.S.A. § 39:4-50, makes it a crime to operate a vehicle while intoxicated. This means the prosecution must prove two elements: 1) that you were “operating” the vehicle, and 2) that you were “intoxicated.”
A blood alcohol concentration (BAC) test, such as a breathalyzer or a blood test, can prove the intoxication element. Alternatively, if your BAC is lower than the “legal limit” of .08% or you refuse testing, police can prove you were drunk by testifying about how you acted, what you said or did, whether there was alcohol on your breath, and other factors.
As for proving you were “operating” the vehicle, the law is very broad. Clearly, actual driving would be enough to count as “operation.” Unfortunately, it may also be enough that the car is running – or even that there are keys in the ignition. If you are in your car’s driver’s seat (or slumped nearby), and have access to your keys, you could be charged with DWI even if you were asleep when it happened. The New Jersey Supreme Court has heard multiple cases with similar facts, and has upheld the DWI convictions.
South Jersey Drowsy Driving Attorney
If you were charged with a crime or given a traffic ticket for tired driving, talk to an attorney today. The South Jersey DWI lawyers at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych may be able to help with tired driving charges, or with DWI charges for sleeping in your car. For a free consultation on your case, call (609) 616-4956 today.