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I use an electric wheelchair. Upon leaving a bar, I notice I am pretty inebriated. Obviously I shouldn't drive an automobile, and I don't. But what about my wheelchair? I know some jurisdictions will give DUI's for riding a bike while drunk. Do I have to just sit still until I sober up?

I am in NY, but I'd be interested in answers from any jurisdiction.

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  • Where are you riding it? I.e. on a street open to public motor vehicle traffic, or on a pedestrian walkway?
    – sharur
    Sep 15 at 22:07
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    @sharur Pedestrian walkway
    – Ryan_L
    Sep 15 at 22:08
  • 10
    Wow, so on top of drunk driving, you're also driving on the sidewalk? :) :) :) Sorry, I'm punning on the juxtaposition between "wheelchairs" and "motor vehicles"... Sep 16 at 21:37
  • 17
    @Harper-ReinstateMonica It might be even worse; in some jurisdictions, you can get a DUI just for being drunk and in the driver's seat, even if the car is off and parked. So if those jurisdictions also consider wheelchairs motor vehicles, I am guilty of DUI the moment I hit 0.08BAC. I could get a DUI inside the bar.
    – Ryan_L
    Sep 16 at 22:48
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    @Ryan_L In most jurisdictions 0.08BAC does not define guilt/innocence but instead it is prima facie evidence of guilt. You can get a DUI for lower than 0.08BAC and you can get acquitted for higher than 0.08BAC.
    – emory
    Sep 17 at 2:40
67

No.

New York's DUI law forbids the operation of a motor vehicle when your "ability to operate such motor vehicle is impaired by the consumption of alcohol", but it defines "motor vehicle" to exclude "electrically-driven mobility assistance devices operated or driven by a person with a disability."

If you are using a wheelchair because of a disability, you are therefore not subject to the DUI statute.

1
18

NO

The drink related offences are at sections 4 to 5A of the Road Traffic Act 1988 and all require a person to be driving a mechanically propelled vehicle.

However... an invalid carriage is expressly excluded by virtue of section 185(1)(c) of that Act and section 20(1)(b) of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970:

...if the vehicle [i.e. the invalid carriage] is mechanically propelled, it shall be treated for the purposes of the ... Road Traffic Act 1988 ... as not being a motor vehicle ...

Section 185 of the 1988 Act defines an “invalid carriage” as:

... a mechanically propelled vehicle the weight of which unladen does not exceed 254 kilograms and which is specially designed and constructed, and not merely adapted, for the use of a person suffering from some physical defect or disability and is used solely by such a person

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  • 23
    @Acccumulation Question also says "I'd be interested in answers from any jurisdiction".
    – Bob
    Sep 16 at 5:56
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    Could there be a charge of "wanton and furious driving" if bodily harm to another occurs (as with cyclists)?
    – James K
    Sep 16 at 6:41
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    Can you not be charged with being drunk in charge. In 2015 a man was charged under the 1872 Licensing Act for being drunk in charge of a carriage (mobility scooter)
    – uɐɪ
    Sep 16 at 7:33
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    @Acccumulation multi-jurisdictional answers are actively encouraged on this site regardless of tags. From the help pages: "Even if you supply a jurisdiction tag, we expect and encourage answers dealing with other jurisdictions – while it might not answer your question directly, your question will be here for others who may be from those jurisdictions."
    – JBentley
    Sep 16 at 14:30
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    @Acccumulation What's wrong with British- specific terminology? This is not an exclusively American site: it is international with has valuable contributions from users around the word who easily decipher Americanisms such as DUI without labouring the point.
    – Rock Ape
    Sep 18 at 7:55
11

Yes, if you endanger others

In Finland, the traffic law (Finnish text) defines users of mobility assisting devices as pedestrians.

However, the criminal code (Finnish, or out-dated English translation), chapter 23, section 9, defines a crime called "Non-motor powered traffic intoxication":

A road user who operates a non-motor powered vehicle under the influence of alcohol or other narcotic substances, thereby causing a hazard to others, shall be sentenced for non-motor powered traffic intoxication to a fine or to imprisonment for at most three months. [emphasis added]

This is the crime that applies to e.g. bicycles as well. That old version doesn't specify which vehicles count here, but the current text is more explicit, and also includes mobility assisting devices with at most a 1 kW engine and 15 km/h max speed.

They key part is "causing a hazard to others"; just being drunk shouldn't be enough.

3
  • Out of curiosity, would a horse count as a "non-motor powered vehicle" for purposes of this law?
    – Vikki
    Sep 18 at 0:12
  • 1
    This is not extremely horrible. It appears to point out the fact that there may need to be a balance striked between non-discrimination and the potential implications of using such a device. Although, I would add: they should have added a walking speed exception on sidewalks or highways if not available
    – kisspuska
    Sep 18 at 15:36
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    @Vikki I think if someone was drunk on a horse on a public road and caused a danger (but not actual damage), this would be the law that's applied, but I'm not sure.
    – Dronir
    Sep 20 at 5:05
9

Probably not in Sweden. The transport agency says that

Trafikregler för rullstolsburna

Trafikreglerna för gående gäller

or in English

Traffic rules for wheelchairs

The traffic rules for pedestrians apply

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  • 1
    For Sweden, I believe that 3 kap. 1 § of Trafikförordningen is also applicable to people in wheelchairs. My translation: "Vehicles may not be operated by someone who due to illness, exhaustion, influence of alcohol, other stimulating or numbing substances or due to other reasons cannot operate the vehicle in a reassuring manner." So no limit on blood alcohol level, but on its effect on your ability to operate the wheelchair safely.
    – jkej
    Sep 16 at 8:41
  • I believe the Hebrew law you're linking to refers exclusively to electric mobility scooters. It also specifies that the minimum age is 16 (I have seen children using motorized wheelchairs) and that the speed must be limited to 12kmh (motorized wheelchairs are limited to 6kmh).
    – Ramon Snir
    Sep 16 at 12:39
  • Can you split the Israel and Sweden answers, and tag them appropriately? Thanks. Sep 16 at 16:20
  • @PaulJohnson how do you tag answers?
    – Rsf
    Sep 17 at 7:18
  • See law.stackexchange.com/editing-help#tags BTW, by "split" I meant "split it into two answers". You'll get a warning when you start the second one, but just go ahead: in this case it's an appropriate thing to do. Sep 17 at 9:03
8

Yes

A wheelchair is a vehicle under the definition in the Road Traffic Act. Further, an electric wheelchair is a motor vehicle.

It is illegal to operate either while over the legal limit for alcohol or other drugs. The penalties are higher for a motor vehicle.

Police only have the right to administer a random breath test if you are driving a motor vehicle. However, if you are involved in an accident and hospitalised they can demand a blood test.

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    Interesting read. I was able to look up the Road Traffic Act, and I don't think my chair meets the definition of a motor vehicle, as it cannot go over 10kmh. You may wish to include the definitions found here, for completeness sake: classic.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/sa/consol_act/rta1961111/…
    – Ryan_L
    Sep 15 at 21:11
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    @Ryan_L Note that you've found the Road Traffic Act for South Australia. Dale actually misquoted a bit, as New South Wales has the Road Transport Act instead. Its definition of "vehicle" can be found in § 4 Definitions and includes "any description of vehicle on wheels" without explicitly mentioning wheelchairs... I do not know if wheelchairs may be excluded for other reasons though.
    – Bob
    Sep 16 at 6:05
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    I actually wonder whether this is correct, since while use of a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol is under § 112 of the Road Transport Act, that Act also defines "use" as "includes standing the vehicle on a road or road related area" and further to the definition of vehicle says "any other description of vehicle prescribed by the statutory rules". Road Transport Act 2013 includes Road Rules 2014, which, in § 15, matches SA...
    – Bob
    Sep 16 at 6:18
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    ...by defining vehicle as including "(e) a motorised wheelchair that can travel at over 10 kilometres per hour (on level ground), [...] but does not include another kind of wheelchair". This is simplified by the TfNSW website which says here that "A motorised wheelchair user is generally considered to be a pedestrian, and must comply with the NSW Road Rules that apply to pedestrians.".
    – Bob
    Sep 16 at 6:19
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    @Harper-ReinstateMonica NSW is in Australia, not NZ :) Sep 16 at 22:57
4

No traffic violation for being intoxicated, as it is not considered a vehicle

Resolution 465/2013 of CONTRAN (National Traffic Council) defines on its 2nd paragraph that self-propelled mobility equipment are not considered equivalent to vehicles, allowing them to circulate in pedestrian and bicycle paths as long as they:

  • Are made to certain set of dimensions defined by the local norm for wheelchairs
  • Are equipped with speedometer, bell or other noise producing device, and lights (front, sides and back)
  • Keep a max speed of 6 km/h in pedestrian paths or 20 km/h in bicycle paths

You can, however, get fined by jay...rolling (?) as defined in Article 254 of the National Code of Transit. Not that anybody bothers with enforcing that.

4

YES

In Israel an electric wheelchair has a special definition and it's called "Kalno-it" (a combination of eay and move in Hebrew) and those are the rules saying among other thing

(ב) לא ינהג אדם בקלנועית אלא אם כן מצבו הגופני והנפשי מאפשר לו להפעילה בבטחה.

(B) A person shall not drive a Klano-it unless his physical and mental condition allows him to operate it safely.

3

NO

The definition by the code de la route (road law) :

1° Le terme "véhicule à moteur" désigne tout véhicule terrestre pourvu d'un moteur de propulsion, y compris les trolleybus, et circulant sur route par ses moyens propres, à l'exception des véhicules qui se déplacent sur rails ;

(1) The term "motor vehicle" means any land vehicle equipped with a propulsion engine, including trolleybuses, and circulating on the road by its own means, with the exception of vehicles that travel on rails;

Article L110-1

But this is reversed by R311-1 point 6.15 which outlines which vehicles types are bound under the road code :

6.15. Engin de déplacement personnel motorisé : véhicule sans place assise, conçu et construit pour le déplacement d'une seule personne [...] Les engins exclusivement destinés aux personnes à mobilité réduite sont exclus de cette catégorie ;

6.15. Motorized personal mobility device: a vehicle without a seating area, designed and constructed for the movement of a single person [...] Vehicles intended exclusively for persons with reduced mobility are excluded from this category;

1

Since you're not using your wheelchair on the road, you're not subject to NYC DUI laws. New York State has no law against being intoxicated from alcohol in public. https://ypdcrime.com/vt/article31.php

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  • 2
    Please include a citation for NYC's DUI laws; as far as I understand (as a layperson who has spent time in both NYC and non-NYC areas of NYS) there are no NYC-specific laws defining DUI.
    – nanofarad
    Sep 17 at 15:27
  • I edited my previous comment to include a link. Every state has DWI laws with alcohol impairment after a breathalyzer test. For NYC, .08 BAC is determined impaired driving. This doesn't affect a drunk wheelchair person meandering on sidewalks.
    – F Dryer
    Sep 17 at 18:33
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    The definition in NY Law of motor vehicles: "Every vehicle operated or driven upon a public highway (Any highway, road, street, avenue, alley, public place, public driveway or any other public way.) which is propelled by any power other than muscular power, except (a) electrically-driven mobility assistance devices operated or driven by a person with a disability..." It's more important that it is a wheelchair than where it was driven.
    – ColleenV
    Sep 17 at 19:36

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