Although most DUI and DWI cases involve automobiles, trucks, SUVs and sometimes motorcycles, there are a large number of DUI cases involving vehicles that may be quite unlike the standard car. Other times courts are faced with cases that don't even involve a motorized vehicle, such as drunk biking. Here is an overview of how drunk driving laws treat bicycles, as well as some examples of non-automobile DUI's.
Bicycles and DUI Laws
States and courts are split on the subject of drunk biking. Some people automatically doubt the amount of harm a bicyclist can cause to others, considering the nature of a bicycle. However, some states and their laws acknowledge that, even assuming a bicyclist likely only harms themselves by drunk biking, an injury to a drunken rider can have a profound effect on others, especially their family members.
In any case involving an allegation of drunk bicycling, the first place to look to is the DUI/DWI law of that state. Some states exclude bicycles entirely from their definition of "vehicles." Other states limit the application of their DUI or DWI laws to "motor vehicles." But some states treat bicycles as just another vehicle on the road, regardless of the language used within their DUI laws. In these states, drunk bike riders face the same potential legal landmines as any other drunk driver.
In general, where a state law on drunk driving specifically prohibits the operation of a "motor vehicle," the chances are very high that the law will be interpreted by courts as not applying to bicycles or similar man-powered vehicles. On the other hand, where statutes apply more generally to all "vehicles," courts sometimes find that bicycles fall into this category. A local attorney can be of valuable assistance in finding out what, if any laws, apply in these circumstances, and can determine whether or not courts in the area have applied state DUI laws to cyclists.
Non-Automobile DUI: Other "Motor Vehicles"
Falling into another grey area of DUI law are types of motorized transportation that don't fit into the typical view of an everyday automobile. Some common examples of these are ATVs, pocket bikes (minibikes), golf carts, and other vehicles that aren't designed or intended for use on public highways.
Similar to the laws surrounding drunk biking, a good place to start in a non-automobile DUI case is with the laws of the state at issue. Some states create lists of "motor vehicles" that fit the definition under DUI laws, while others create definitions for those motor vehicles. The rules vary widely and it is best to consult your state laws, but here are some examples of non-automobile vehicles which have been found to qualify as "motor vehicles" under various state DUI laws:
- all terrain vehicles (ATV's)
- riding lawn mowers
- pocket bikes
- golf carts
The general take-away from these examples, is that a vehicle that a wide variety of vehicles that have motors, wheels, and are operated by human drivers can qualify as motor vehicles for purposes of drunk driving laws (including horses and horse-drawn wagons). Once sharing public streets and highways, the amount of horsepower, the speed, or the danger posed (or lack thereof) by the vehicles may play a very limited role as far as drunk driving laws are concerned.