With the wintry season well underway in Central Pennsylvania, many people enjoy taking a ride on a snowmobile through the snow covered fields, and those joy rides quite often occur after a person has had a few beers or mixed drinks. Some people may not realize it, but they could be charged in Pennsylvania with driving under the influence while riding a snowmobile. Similar to a bike or even a tractor, a snowmobile is clearly a "vehicle" under Pennsylvania law, and a vehicle is subject to the law in the Vehicle Code. Therefore, a person can be charged with a DUI for riding a bike, tractor, snowmobile, or Segway. A 21-year-old man in Wisconsin was recently arrested for operating a vehicle while under the influence (OVI), which is similar to Pennsylvania's drunk driving law, after he crashed his snowmobile into an ice fishing shack, and his 20-year-old female passenger died as a result of the crash. Had this occurred in Pennsylvania, the man could also be facing a charge of Homicide by Vehicle While DUI, 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 3735, and a conviction of the homicide charge would carry a mandatory minimum sentence of 3 years of incarceration. Aside from the criminal penalties, the family of the girl that died is likely to sue the drunken rider in civil court.
Pennsylvania DUI Law Applies to Highways and Trafficways
The real issue in a snowmobile DUI is likely to be the location where the person was riding. The Pennsylvania DUI law in 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 3802 only applies to highways and trafficways. A highway is relatively simple to explain as it is an actual road. A trafficway is a little broader and is defined by law as "the entire width between property lines or other boundary lines of every way or place of which any part is open to the public for purposes of vehicular travel as a matter of right or custom." Some people mistakenly believe that a trafficway cannot be on private property, but that is simply not the case. Many people are charged with drunk driving after being caught on private property, such as a parking lot or parking garage. In State College, some people park in a parking garage, walk to a bar, have a few too many drinks, and then have trouble getting the exit gate to lift. The police arrive before the person's vehicle ever enters the street, but the person is still charged with a DUI because a parking garage is considered a "trafficway."
In the context of a snowmobile, a person obviously could be charged with a DUI in Pennsylvania if he or she rode the machine on a roadway, and a person could probably be charged if he or she rode the machine on a private road within the person's housing development.
Snowmobiling While Drunk is not Safe
If you are going to ride a snowmobile after drinking, keep the machine in the fields and off the roads to avoid a drunk driving charge. I also do not recommend that you ride a snowmobile after drinking for safety reasons. Many people ride snowmobiles at high speeds and over unknown and uncertain terrain, so a dangerous activity is made even more dangerous by adding alcohol. Having a few beers or shots before riding will reduce the rider's inhibitions, meaning he or she may go a little faster and take a few more risks, and the alcohol is slowing down the rider's reaction times and ability to steer the machine safely. A person riding a snowmobile should have fun but must also be careful to avoid criminal and civil liability.