A Florida man was recently arrested and charged with Driving Under the Influence after he was operating his motorized wheelchair and allegedly blocking multiple lanes of travel on a roadway. I suspect that many people are surprised that a person can be charged with a DUI offense when they were not driving a car or motor vehicle. The DUI law in Pennsylvania, found at 75 Pa.C.S.A. §3802(a)(1), makes it illegal for an individual to "drive, operate or be in actual physical control of the movement of a vehicle after imbibing a sufficient amount of alcohol such that the individual is rendered incapable of safely driving, operating or being in actual physical control of the movement of the vehicle." This means that the Pennsylvania driving under the influence law applies to a person that drives or operates a "vehicle" while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
The Vehicle Code defines the word "vehicle" as "every device in, upon or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway." This means that almost anything that can be used to transport a person is considered a vehicle. I have represented a few Penn State students over the years that have been charged with drunk driving while riding bicycles. I have never had a DUI case involving a skateboard, but, as more and more University Park students are using the boards as a means of transportation on the roads, I suspect that it is just a matter of time.
No Wheelchair DUI in Pennsylvania
Had this incident occurred in Pennsylvania, I do not believe that the man could have been charged with a DUI. While Pennsylvania law has a broad definition of the word "vehicle," the definition expressly excludes "a self-propelled wheel chair or an electrical mobility device operated by and designed for the exclusive use of a person with a mobility-related disability." Therefore, it appears that as long as the man was actually disabled, he would legally be allowed to operate his wheelchair on a roadway or trafficway in Pennsylvania while under the influence. If the man was not disabled, then the wheelchair would not have been operated by a person with a mobility-related disability, so the man could be charged with drunk driving.
DUI on Private Property
Many people are also surprised that a person can be charged with a DUI while driving on private property. The Pennsylvania driving under the influence law applies to the operation of a vehicle on both highways and trafficways. A "trafficway" is defined 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." To simplify the definition, trafficway generally means an area in which people operate vehicles that is open to the public as a matter of right or custom. Many people are charged with DUIs in parking lots and parking garages after they are unable to get the gate to lift or open to allow the person to leave. Other people are charged with a DUI for driving a 4-wheeler or go cart on the roads through housing developments. While those areas are on private property, those areas are trafficways because they are open to the public.
Many people simply do not understand what is and is not illegal, and there are many misconceptions when it comes to driving under the influence charges. The most important decision a person charged with a Centre County DUI can make is to hire an experienced State College DUI defense attorney