Recently on our forum we had a driver ask about getting a driving under the influence (DUI) charge while operating a lawn mower. Although this is rare, it is not unprecedented.
In June 2011, a South Dakota man was arrested while operating a lawn mower. According to the Daily Republic newspaper, Guy Hornedeagle was arrested on state Highway 46 after he rode his lawn mower to the gas station and allegedly purchased beer. He was charged for littering the can in the ditch after it was consumed, having an open container of alcohol and driving under the influence.
In 2011, another man, Michael Jackson Murden, 54, was arrested for driving a lawn mower in the street. He was accused of driving a lawn mower down North Midland Avenue in Atlanta, Georgia. Michael Ackermann, a South Carolina man, also was charged that same year when he rode his lawn mower through a Jack in the Box drive thru and was later arrested by local police a short distance by the police.
What is a motorized vehicle?
Some drivers wonder what the state considers a motorized vehicle. Unfortunately, state laws vary so we will speak specifically about the state of California. The California Vehicle Code §670 defines a vehicle as: “A device by which any person or property may be propelled, moved, or drawn upon a highway, excepting a device moved exclusively by human power or used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks.”
Thus, the general rule is that any device with a motor that has been designed to be driven on highways is a vehicle. However, bicycles without motors are not considered vehicles. Other state cases have concluded that a person riding a horse or other animal on a highway may violate drunk driving laws if they are intoxicated.
Florida and Tennessee have similar statutes which can consider a lawnmower a motorized vehicle. The Tennessee legislature does not have a clear definition of “motor driven vehicle” but courts have upheld the notion in court cases that motorized vehicle can include any self-propelled vehicle. This could also include a car, a scooter, or even a motorized cooler under the Tennessee DUI statute.
What if I was operating motorized vehicle on private property?
What about riding your lawnmower on your own property? Is this legal? Whether or not you can be arrested for DUI on private property varies by state. This is why it is always important to talk to a DUI lawyer familiar with the laws of your state. Some states limit DUI offenses to public property; others do not.
For instance, Ohio laws specify that if you are operating a motorized vehicle on public or private property you have given your implied consent to submit to a chemical test if you are arrested for OVI or DUI. This law is similar in other states.
To further complicate the issue private property can be defined differently in some states. Private property is generally defined as property which the general public does not have the right to “egress or ingress” but this can vary in some states. Also, some drivers may consider a business parking lot, which is owned by the owner of the business, as private property but given that the public has the right to access the lot it may be considered public property under the law.
It is time to talk to a DUI lawyer.