Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Physical Control Definition:

Having the means to initiate any movement of, and in close proximity to the operating controls of a vehicle.

In State v Fleck, Madam Justice Terri Stoneburner of the Court of Appeals of Minnesota wrote:

"A person is in physical control of a vehicle if he has the means to initiate any movement of that vehicle and he is in close proximity to the operating controls of the vehicle. Physical control is meant to cover situations where an inebriated person is found in a parked vehicle that, without too much difficulty, might again be started and become a source of danger to the operator, to others, or to property. The term is given the broadest possible effect. Mere presence in or about the vehicle is not enough for physical control; it is the overall situation that is determinative."

An aspect or required element of impaired driving laws in some jurisdictions, notably, the USA.

In Cloud v State, the Florida statute before Justice Leslie Rothenberg of the District Court of Appeal of Florida required proof that the inebriated driver was in actual physical control of the vehicle. The statute added:

"Actual physical control of a vehicle means the defendant must be physically in or on the vehicle and have the capability to operate the vehicle, regardless of whether he/she is actually operating the vehicle at the time."

Justice Rothenberg noted:

"[I]f a person is found passed out behind the steering wheel of a vehicle with the keys either in the ignition or on the floor of the vehicle, he may be found guilty of violating this statute because he is in actual physical control of a vehicle which can readily be made operational.... In contrast, when a vehicle's condition renders it incapable of being operated and it cannot be readily made operable due to the necessity of making substantial mechanical repairs or other factors which reflect that the vehicle's disability is not just temporary, then physical control is not established."


  • Cloyd v. State, 943 So. 2d 149 (2006)
  • State v. Fleck, 763 NW 2d 39 (2009)

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