What does it mean for a vehicle to be operable and why is the important when talking about a DUI?

Can you get a DUI if your car is not operable?  When is a car considered inoperable?

Colorado courts have addressed this question.  The standard that the courts have followed is whether the vehicle is “reasonably capable of being rendered operable”. People v. VanMatre, 190 P.3d 770, (Colo. 2008). This designation is important because it is a threshold standard for whether the driver has actual physical control over the vehicle.

This seems to be straightforward at first glance but, when given a second look, can be somewhat complex. The test is not simply whether or not a car can move (i.e. has gas in the tank, does not have a flat tire, etc.). The term “operable” hinges on whether the issue with the car can be quickly remedied.
For example, if a car has run out of gas because the driver ignored the fuel light and drove the car until it stopped on the side of the road, the driver can likely still be charged with a DUI because it was the driver’s own decision that made the car inoperable.  Even though the vehicle does not have gas in the tank, that issue can be quickly remedied and the car could be operable again.

Assuming a car is operable, the next question becomes whether the driver is in actual physical control of the car.  A person cannot be in actual physical control of an inoperable car for purposes of a DUI charge.  To learn more about the definition of actual physical control, take a look at our post on the topic.