Electric Scooters And DUI / OVI In Ohio

Scooter-DUI-131x300Electric scooters are a thing. In cities across the country, people are riding them, and leaving them, everywhere. During my recent trip to Santa Monica, I decided I would rent one and ride it on the bike path along the beach (“The Strand”). It turns out e-scooters were banned on The Strand, so I rented a bike. Some people rode electric scooters on The Strand anyway, apparently unconcerned about breaking the law. One Santa Monica scooter rider was prosecuted for breaking the law in a different way: driving drunk on an e-scooter. Could someone in Ohio be prosecuted for DUI/OVI on an e-scooter?

Is An Electric Scooter A “Vehicle” Or A “Motor Vehicle”?
Ohio Revised Code section 4511.19 prohibits operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The question is whether an electric scooter is a “vehicle” subject to the OVI law. The relevant definitions have changed over time, as chapter 4511 of the Ohio Revised Code is amended frequently. In fact, section 4511.19 has been amended about 20 times since 1982.

Currently, a vehicle is defined by ORC section 4511.01(A) as follows:

“Vehicle” means every device, including a motorized bicycle, in, upon, or by which any person or property may be transported or drawn upon a highway, except that “vehicle” does not include any motorized wheelchair, any electric personal assistive mobility device, any personal delivery device as defined in section 4511.513 of the Revised Code, any device that is moved by power collected from overhead electric trolley wires or that is used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks, or any device, other than a bicycle, that is moved by human power.

That’s a mouthful. But wait, there’s more. The Revised Code makes a distinction between a “vehicle” and a “motor vehicle”. A “motor vehicle” is a vehicle propelled or drawn by power other than muscular power or power collected from overhead trolley wires. The bicycle I rented in Santa Monica was propelled by muscular power, and I felt it for a couple days.

A Vehicle By Any Other Name
Although the Ohio Revised Code distinguishes between a “motor vehicle” and a “vehicle”, the distinction doesn’t matter when it comes to the charge of O.V.I. That’s because the O.V.I. statute says, “No person shall operate any vehicle” under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Is an e-scooter a vehicle? A person may be transported on it. It’s not a motorized wheelchair, personal assistive mobility device, or personal delivery device. It’s not used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks. It’s not moved by human power. It’s not moved by power collected from overhead electric trolley wires (The Ohio legislature must expect trolleys to make a comeback in Ohio).

Not A Good Alternative If You Drank Too Much
Given that definition, electric scooters are, in fact, vehicles. That means you can be prosecuted for OVI on an e-scooter (unless your e-scooter is powered by overhead electric trolley wires). If you are under the influence, do not operate any “vehicle”, including an electric scooter. Operating a regular scooter, like a Razor, under the influence would not be an OVI because it is “moved by human power”. I don’t recommend that either. Try Uber or Lyft instead. Or just drink less.

But Is The Punishment Too Harsh?
Should a drunk on an electric scooter be punished the same as a drunk driver in a car? That punishment includes mandatory jail time and a mandatory driver license suspension. It doesn’t seem like there should be a license suspension when the offense did not involve driving an automobile. In addition, the danger created by drunken scootering doesn’t seem equal to the danger caused by drunk driving. As the law currently stands, a person prosecuted for OVI on an e-scooter would face the same punishment as if he or she were driving a car and would probably want representation from a good DUI/OVI defense firm.