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What Is Considered Operating in a Drunk Driving Case in Ohio?

How does Ohio define operating a vehicle while under the influence (OVI)

Intoxicated driving is dangerous. In Ohio, you can be charged with a serious criminal offense if you ‘operate’ a vehicle while you are under the influence of alcohol. To obtain a conviction for an OVI/DUI, Ohio prosecutors must prove the following three required basic elements of the offense:

  • The driver was in a ‘vehicle’;
  • The driver was legally intoxicated; and
  • The driver was ‘operating’ that vehicle.

While these elements may appear to be relatively straightforward, there are plenty of cases in which disputes arise over whether or not the offense actually occurred. Here, you will find an overview of the definition of the required legal elements of driving under the influence in Ohio.

The Term Vehicle is Defined Broadly

Under Ohio Revised Code Section 4511.01, the term ‘vehicle’ is defined in a relatively broad manner. Certainly, cars, trucks, vans, and other similar automobiles are covered. However, beyond that, many other motorized vehicles are covered by the statute well. In fact, a person could be charged with an OVI in Ohio if they operate a motorized bike, a golf cart, an ATV, or a boat.

“People in Ohio can even be charged for an OVI on a bicycle, scooter or unicycle,” says Shawn R. Dominy, an attorney in Columbus. “OVI cases involving these types of vehicles are relatively rare, and do not pose any special challenges. … The evidence in OVI cases is, for the most part, the same—whether the case involves a car or some other type of vehicle. … People should be aware: If you are under the influence, using a bicycle, ATV, golf cart, et cetera, is not a safe alternative to driving a car.”

What Is the Maximum Legal Limit in Ohio?

Similar to other jurisdictions, the maximum legal limit in Ohio is a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of 0.08 and it is commonly established via breath tests, field sobriety tests and blood tests. Though, for certain operators—specifically, for commercial drivers and those who are under the age of 21—the BAC level limit is lower than that. If a driver is highly intoxicated, meaning their blood alcohol content is at or above .170, they can subject to heightened penalties.

Movement Is Required, Not the Potential Movement

Ohio state law requires operation of a vehicle to be charged with an OVI/DUI. Operation is defined as causing or having caused movement of the vehicle. In other words, a drunk person who is merely sitting in the driver’s seat of a car should not be charged with an OVI. This offense requires actual movement.

That being said, while you cannot be charged with an OVI if a vehicle does not move, you can still be charged with a lesser offense called Physical Control of a Vehicle Under the Influence. Though this is a lesser offense, and it is not a moving violation, it is still a serious crime that can potentially lead to jail time.

The Burden of Proof for DWI Is on the Prosecution

As with other cases, it is important for defendants to remember that the burden of proof is always on the prosecution. An accused person is always presumed to be innocent until they can be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecution has a duty to prove each element of the crime. If you or your loved one was arrested and charged with an OVI, it is crucial that you consult with an experienced Ohio lawyer right away to potentially avoid DUI conviction.

“Someone who has been accused of OVI in Ohio will have the first court appearance within five days, so they need to quickly decide whether they are going to plead guilty to the OVI or contest the OVI,” says Dominy. “Before making that decision, they should call a lawyer to gain an accurate understanding of the situation so they can make an informed decision about how which way to proceed.”

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