A Florida woman made national news last week when she was arrested for "driving" under the influence of alcohol.
Most people know it's illegal to operate a vehicle while impaired by alcohol or drugs. But the Florida woman wasn't operating what most people probably think of as a "vehicle." She was riding a horse at the time of her arrest.
Which raises the question: is it possible to be arrested for "driving" under the influence, if you're on horseback?
Can you get a DUI on horseback in Washington?
In Washington, it is illegal to operate a vehicle while impaired due to drugs or alcohol. This is referred to as DUI, or driving under the influence.
Washington DUI law specifically states that a person is "guilty of driving while under the influence" if the person "drives a vehicle" (emphasis added) and also meets certain other conditions, such as having an alcohol concentration of .08 or higher within two hours of driving, as shown by breath or blood analysis.
Therefore, in order to be convicted of DUI in Washington, a person must be driving a vehicle. The question then becomes, what is a vehicle under Washington law? And is a horse a vehicle? This isn't as silly a question as it might seem. The definition of "vehicle" in Washington's DUI laws went all the way to the Washington State Court of Appeals in the 1990s.
According to Washington state law, a vehicle is any:
"...device capable of being moved upon a public highway and in, upon, or by which any persons or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a public highway, including bicycles."
In 1995, the Washington Court of Appeals decided that Washington's DUI laws were intended to apply only to motor vehicles.
Cars and motorcycles are clearly vehicles, based on Washington's DUI laws and the Court's interpretation of those laws. Motorized golf carts are also vehicles. The DUI law's definition of "vehicle" specifically excludes power wheelchairs and devices "moved by...animal power." So a horse-drawn cart (a device moved by animal power) most likely would not be considered a vehicle.
And, because a horse is not a motor vehicle, it is unlikely that someone could get a DUI for riding a horse while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
What about a bike? Can you get a DUI on a bike?
This question also hinges on the legal definition of a vehicle in Washington state. A literal reading of the Washington state DUI Law definition of "vehicle" seems to include bicycles within the broader category of vehicles.
In the 1995 Court of Appeals decision, the Court found that "the Legislature did not intend to apply the DUI law to bicyclists." Therefore, the Court decided that a bicyclist cannot commit the crime of driving under the influence, according to Washington state law.
Although you're unlikely to be charged with a DUI when riding a bicycle--or a horse--in Washington, that doesn't mean it's a good idea to do either one. Not only could you injure yourself or others, you could be arrested for other crimes. The intoxicated Florida horse rider, for example, was charged with animal neglect.
Washington law also states that both bicyclists and those riding animals "shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle." That means, if you're breaking other "rules of the road," you could be charged with other non-DUI crimes.
If you are charged with a DUI when operating a vehicle, the consequences can be severe. Most Washington DUIs carry mandatory minimum penalties, including jail time, fines and license suspension. If you are facing DUI charges, you need knowledgeable legal representation. Contact Steve Karimi to learn what your options are.