Can you get a DUI on an Electric Scooter?

The birds are loose in Cincinnati. Pigeons, sparrows, crows? Nope – electric motorized scooters that are left at locations around Cincinnati and that you use an app to locate and then rent. When you’ve finished your journey – simply leave it where you are, take a picture, and update the app. The next person can then locate it and use it to take them wherever it is that they are going.

Could there be an easier and more interesting way to cruise around downtown, OTR, or the Banks? How about instead of a pedal cart, we take a flock of birds from bar to bar for a pub crawl scoot? Not to throw a wet towel on the excitement – but I’ve been asked several times already whether or not you can get a DUI on a bird scooter. The answer is simply: yes.

As we all know, Ohio law prohibits a person from operating a vehicle with a prohibited concentration of alcohol in their system – the infamous .08. It also prohibits a person from operating a vehicle while impaired by alcohol or drugs (even if their BAC isn’t above a .08 or they refuse a chemical test). There are other nuances to the law dealing with drugs of abuse, alcohol levels measured in whole blood and urine, and the interaction between alcohol and drugs – but my focus here is alcohol.

When we think of motor vehicles, most people assume we’re talking about cars or motorcycles. But a vehicle can be many more things than just that. Looking to the Ohio Revised Code will give us the needed legal definition. Let’s start with 4511.01’s definition of “vehicle”.

4511.01 Traffic laws – operation of motor vehicles definitions.

  1. 4511.01(A): “Vehicle” means every device, including a motorized bicycle, in, upon, or by which any person or property may be transported or drawn upon a highway, except that “vehicle” does not include any motorized wheelchair, any electric personal assistive mobility device, any personal delivery device as defined in section 4511.513 of the Revised Code, any device that is moved by power collected from overhead electric trolley wires or that is used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks, or any device, other than a bicycle, that is moved by human power.

Oh – we’re good because it says that it has to be on a highway. Nobody’s taking a bird scooter on the highway! But, like many things in the legal world, the answer isn’t quite so easy – look at the definition of “highway” at 4511.01(AA):

  1. 4511.01(AA): “Public roads and highways” for vehicles includes all public thoroughfares, bridges, and culverts.

Well, that doesn’t help us any. Maybe you have to be on the road for it to count – nope. The DUI statute, ORC 4511.19(A), prohibits DUI anywhere in the state. That means you can get a DUI on a sidewalk, in a field, or on Main Street.

But wait you say, it specifically excludes, “any electric personal assistive mobility device”. Great- we’re good to go. It’s a scooter (that’s personal) it helps me in getting from one place to another (that’s assistive) and it’s a mobility device (‘cause it moves). It’s exempt! Not so fast. We’d better take a look at the definition of ‘personal assistive mobility device’ in ORC 4501.01(TT):

  1. 4511.01(TT): “Electric personal assistive mobility device” means a self-balancing two non-tandem wheeled device that is designed to transport only one person, has an electric propulsion system of an average of seven hundred fifty watts, and when ridden on a paved level surface by an operator who weighs one hundred seventy pounds has a maximum speed of less than twenty miles per hour.

No help there either – the scooter has two tandem wheels, one behind the other. The scooter meets the other requirements: they’re self-balancing, they appear to be governed to a maximum speed of about 15.5 mph, and are powered by a 250-watt motor. It’s the tandem wheels that exclude it from the definition and therefore the exemption from application of Ohio’s DUI law.

So while the birds have taken up residence in Cincinnati and are going to be located in areas of town that have a high density of bars and restaurants, it can’t be overlooked that operating one while impaired, besides being terribly dangerous, can certainly result in an arrest and charge for DUI.