What Happens When a Driver and Passenger Switch Seats in a DUI?

  • May 26, 2017

    In California, like in many other states, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is illegal. In most cases, it is not against the law to be a passenger of a vehicle that is being operated by a DUI driver. It may also not be illegal to be an intoxicated passenger in a vehicle operated by a DUI driver. However, there are situations where a drunk driver may try to change seating positions with a sober passenger to avoid being charged with a DUI. While most drivers and their passenger may succeed in fooling law enforcement officers, in some instances, this sort of action can subject the parties involved to criminal charges.


    Why Do People Switch Seats


    There are several reasons a driver may want to change sitting positions with their passenger. If both parties are intoxicated, the passenger may be more likely to pass a field sobriety test or breathalyzer. Another reason would be that the driver has a prior conviction for driving under the influence or is on probation and does not want to get additional charges. There are also cases where switching seats is unrelated to driving conduct like when the driver wants to hide their immigration status.


    What Happens When a Passenger and Driver Switch Seats


    An officer only pulls over a car after reasonable suspicion that the driver has violated a traffic law. This means that an officer monitors a driver closely for a while before pulling them over. When the driver and passenger switch seats, the officer cannot fail to notice it. Furthermore, the officer considers this as “furtive movements” that only serve to increase his/her suspicions. Even when the officer does not pay attention, most patrol vehicles have video recording gadgets that maintain a record of all traffic stops. A review of the video is likely to show footage of the driver and passenger changing seats.


    Switching Seats After an Accident


    In cases involving car accidents, the driver and passenger change sitting positions after the accident or later lie to the officers that it was the passenger who was driving the vehicle before the accident. Accident investigators usually compare the accounts of the driver and their passenger to determine how it reflects with the evidence at the scene of the collision. An officer can be able to tell who the driver of a vehicle is by examining the physical evidence at the scene of the accident and observing any sustained injuries.


    Additionally, witnesses can provide a detailed account of the incident including the person who was driving before the accident occurred. If a witness statement implies that the driver switched places with their passenger, the officer will arrest the driver.


    Punishment for Switching Seats


    When a driver and passenger switch seats, they subject themselves to criminal charges. If both parties lie to the officer about the driver of the vehicle, they are held guilty of providing false information in violation of the California Vehicle Code Section 31 VC. When this false account is used to make an insurance claim, the driver and passenger can be charged with perjury or insurance fraud.


    While there are times when a driver and their passenger can get away with fooling the police about switching seats, the risk of being caught is very high. It is better to face a DUI charge than add a felony on top of it. If you or someone you love is facing a DUI charge, you need to consult an experienced Los Angeles DUI attorney for legal assistance. DUI charges can often result in a license suspension or even jail time, more the reason you need a lawyer to help you fight the charges.

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