Wheelchair DUI’s and Loose Laws

Florida man charged for DUI for being drunk in an electric wheelchair:

A few days ago a man was arrested for DUI because he was:

  1. Drunk (allegedly) and
  2. In an electric wheelchair.

Apparently the long arm of the law in Florida reaches even to drunk guys tooling around in their electric wheelchairs. But this doesn’t smell right. Surely the law against drinking and driving was written to stop people from drinking and … driving, right? Maybe, maybe not. To find out let’s take a look at the actual DUI law:

A person is guilty of the offense of driving under the influence … if the person is driving or in actual physical control of a vehicle within this state and:

(a) The person is under the influence of alcoholic beverages, any chemical substance set forth in s. 877.111, or any substance controlled under chapter 893, when affected to the extent that the person’s normal faculties are impaired;

(b) The person has a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 or more grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood; or

(c) The person has a breath-alcohol level of 0.08 or more grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath.

Ok, but that brings up the next question. Surely when it it says vehicle it’s referring to a car, bus, truck, motorcycle, or something like that, right? But to figure that out we have to look at two things – the law, and how courts apply it.

When courts apply the law:

When courts apply the law, they do it (for the most part) based on the exact wording of the law, and don’t try to figure what the legislature meant to say instead of what it actually said. So in this case, the court will have to to look at what the DUI law says (vehicle), as well as what it doesn’t say (motor vehicle). The DUI Law says that you just have to be in control of a “vehicle.”

So let’s take a look at the definition of “vehicle”:

VEHICLE.—Every device, in, upon, or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway, excepting devices used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks.

So … wait a hot minute. Doesn’t the same statute define “motor vehicle?” Wouldn’t it exclude an electric wheelchair? Yes, and here’s the definition:

MOTOR VEHICLE.—Except when used in s. 316.1001, a self-propelled vehicle not operated upon rails or guideway, but not including any bicycle, motorized scooter, electric personal assistive mobility device, swamp buggy, or moped. For purposes of s. 316.1001, “motor vehicle” has the same meaning as in s. 320.01(1)(a).

But the DUI law doesn’t say “motor vehicle.” It just says “vehicle.” And an electric wheelchair kind of fits under the definition that the legislature made.

This is the problem with non-specific laws. The DUI statute is written broadly in some places (where it just says “vehicle”) and narrowly in other places. The courts have to do the best they can with this mish-mash.