By: South Sound Law Group

What Is the Difference Between Physical Control and DUI?


On the surface, driving under the influence (DUI) and physical control sound similar; wouldn’t someone driving under the influence also have physical control of that vehicle? But that’s not how those terms are defined in Washington State. It’s important to understand the differences. 

What Is Physical Control?

Physical control is the state of being under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs and in a vehicle that the person isn’t driving but could potentially drive while incapacitated. That can include everything from someone sleeping off drugs or alcohol in a car; being a passenger who moved over to the driver’s seat but hasn’t started driving yet; someone stranded by the side of the road whether due to mechanical problems, lack of gas, or road conditions; or simply anyone under the influence who’s in a vehicle with keys in the ignition. If the driver could start to drive, they would have physical control of the vehicle. 

What Is Driving Under the Influence?

DUI is taking physical control to the next level. The intoxicated driver is not only in the vehicle but has started the ignition and is moving along the street or highway. Once the ignition is engaged and the car shifts into motion, the vehicle’s occupants and others in the vehicle’s path are at higher risk.

What Are the Consequences for Physical Control and DUI Violations

Physical control is a gross misdemeanor in Washington State and is subject to the same types of sentences and financial obligations as a DUI. There are differences in outcomes depending on various factors, but in general:

  • First offense: The maximum sentence after conviction is 364 days in jail and a fine between $350 and $ 5,000.
  • Second offense: The maximum sentence after conviction is 30-364 days in jail and a fine between $500 and $ 5,000.
  • Third offense: The maximum sentence after conviction is 90-364 days in jail, with a fine between $1,000-5,000.

Some factors can change these, including having a blood alcohol content of .15% or higher or refusing to take a breathalyzer test. If the impaired driver caused damage or harm to others, there might also be separate charges for that. 

Let Us Advise You

DUI and physical laws and regulations can be complicated. If you or someone you know has been charged with either, call us at 253-383-3328 to work with a skilled lawyer handling DUI cases.