There is an interesting case out of Michigan where the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that a man can be charged with driving while intoxicated on his own private driveway. The case against Gino Rea of Northville was reinstated in this decision (PDF) after the court found that the law encompasses any area accessible to motor vehicles, even if it is on private property.
Rea was arrested after a police officer responded to a noise complaint in 2014 and saw Rea start to back his car down the driveway. Rea however saw the police car and pulled back into his garage. Later police determined that his blood alcohol was three times the legal limit.
The issue turned on the language of the state’s drunken driving law. MCL 257.625(1) provides in pertinent part:
A person, whether licensed or not, shall not operate a vehicle upon a highway or other place open to the general public or generally accessible to motor vehicles, including an area designated for the parking of vehicles, within this state if the person is operating while intoxicated.
That language required a reference to the dictionary:
Because the Michigan Vehicle Code does not define the phrase “generally accessible,” we consult the dictionary definitions of these words. Feeley, 499 Mich at 437. The word “generally” is an adverb that modifies the adjective “accessible.” “Generally” is defined as “in a general manner”; “in disregard of specific instances and with regard to an overall picture”; and “as a rule: USUALLY.” Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed).3 The term “accessible” means “providing access”; “capable of being reached: being within reach” and “capable of being used or seen.” Id.4 Therefore, the plain and ordinary meaning of the phrase “generally accessible” means “usually capable of being reached.”
This phrase must be considered in its statutory context: “other place . . . generally accessible to motor vehicles.” MCL 257.625(1). The phrase “generally accessible” modifies the preceding noun phrase “other place.” Accordingly, the prohibition in MCL 257.625(1) against operating a vehicle while intoxicated does not apply to every place.
Instead, the statute’s prohibition applies only to highways, to other places open to the general public, and to other places that are generally accessible—that is, usually or ordinarily capable of being reached. Finally, we must incorporate the phrase “to motor vehicles,” which is an adverbial prepositional phrase that modifies “generally accessible.” The Michigan Vehicle Code defines “motor vehicle” as “every vehicle that is self-propelled . . . .” MCL 257.33. Therefore, as a whole, the relevant statutory provision prohibits an intoxicated person from operating a vehicle in a place that is usually capable of being reached by self-propelled vehicles.
Accordingly, your driveway is a covered area like a road. What is particularly interesting is that the driveway has often been treated as an extension of the home for purposes of other laws like the Castle Doctrine in allowing the use of lethal force to protect a domicile. Thus, in some states, it could be both a part of the domicile and akin to a public road? There is also the question of long driveways that are not generally accessible to the public. If you can exclude the public from your driveway, is it still “accessible” for the purposes of a sobriety stop or arrest?