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The dictionary defines drive as to guide a vehicle along or through. The dictionary defines operate as to cause to function usually by direct personal effort: work ( a car). Once the key is in the ignition, and the engine is running, an officer may have probable cause to believe that the person sitting behind the steering wheel is operating the vehicle. This is true even if that person is sleeping or unconscious.
A police office discovered Steven Cox sleeping or unconscious sitting in the driver's seat while the keys were in the ignition and the motor was running. The officer knocked on the window and, when Cox rolled the window down, the officer smelled a strong odor of an intoxicating beverage on the driver's breath. Cox failed sobriety tests, and a subsequent breath test revealed a blood alcohol content of .18. The Director of Revenue suspended Cox’s driving privileges pursuant to Mo. Rev. Stat. § 302.505 (Supp. 1997), but Cox argued that the officer did not observe him operating or driving the vehicle. The circuit court ruled that the director improperly suspended the driving privileges. The Director of Revenue appealed.
Was Cox operating or driving the vehicle within the meaning of Mo. Rev. Stat. § 302.505 (Supp. 1997), thereby warranting the suspension of his driving privileges?
The Court held that Cox met the bright-line test to operate a car, as he caused its motor to function. The key was in the ignition, the engine was running, and the driver was sitting behind the steering wheel. Based on those stipulated facts, the officer had probable cause to believe that the driver was operating the vehicle. According to the court, the circuit court erroneously declared and applied the law. Hence, the circuit court’s judgment was reversed, and the case was remanded.