LEGAL GUIDE
Written by Avvo Staff | Jul 11, 2014

DUI: when the vehicle isn't a car

We all know that if you drive a car while intoxicated, you can get in serious trouble with the law. But driving a car isn't the only way that you can get a DUI, just the most common way. You can also get a DUI for drinking and biking, drinking and boating, or drinking and riding an all-terrain vehicle.

Here, we’ll take a look at how DUI laws relate to other vehicles, such as bikes, boats, and ATVs, and how laws vary from state to state.

DUI: The Basics

“DUI” stands for “driving under the influence” and is shorthand for a variety of offenses related to consuming alcohol or other drugs prior to operating a motor vehicle. (Be aware that some jurisdictions will use other terms to indicate driving while intoxicated. For example, some states call it a “DWI,” which stands for “driving while intoxicated.” However, the legal differences are usually minor.) This means that someone is in control of a vehicle while having a blood alcohol content above a certain limit (usually .08%).

But just exactly what is a “vehicle” when it comes to DUI laws? Different states have defined “vehicles” different ways. For example, in Georgia it applies to “any moving vehicle,” but in Ohio the law states that it applies to “any vehicle, streetcar, or trackless trolley.” Some states even have specific DUI laws for certain types of vehicles, like ATVs or boats.

Can I get a DUI on a bike?

Some states treat BUI (biking under the influence) as a serious offense, tantamount to driving a car while intoxicated. Others, however, have specific statues that deal with bicycles. In still others, though, the state DUI statute is unclear, referring simply to “operating a vehicle” while intoxicated. In Florida and Ohio, for example, courts have decided that a bicycle is indeed a “vehicle” and that DUI laws apply to bicyclists, as well.

On the other end of the spectrum, the state of Washington doesn't treat intoxicated biking as a DUI. A police office may stop a drunk bicyclist and impound his or her bike if the bicyclist is a threat to public safety, but it is not treated as a criminal offense. Legal or not, drunk biking is never a good idea, as intoxicated bicyclists are more likely to hurt themselves than others.

Can I get a DUI on an ATV?

Unlike bicycles, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) are usually gas-powered and capable of car-like speeds. They are also capable of doing much more damage to people and property. Courts recognize this and have almost universally classified ATVs as vehicles covered under DUI statutes.

Even if you are off-road, or on your own property, you could still be charged with a DUI on an ATV. In California, for instance, it makes no difference whether you are on public or private land. If it’s a DUI in a car, it’s usually going to be a DUI on an ATV.

Can I get a DUI on a snowmobile

For those living in the northernmost part of the country, DUI snowmobile laws are also relevant. Most states consider snowmobiles to be vehicles, and DUI laws to be at least partially applicable.

Wisconsin, for instance, has specific snowmobile OWI (operating while intoxicated, similar to DUI) laws that can land a person a hefty fine, up to $2000. A snowmobile OWI in Wisconsin won’t affect a person’s driver’s license, however. This contrasts to Minnesota, where you can be arrested and convicted of a vehicle DWI if you drink and operate a snowmobile.

Can I get a DUI on a boat?

Most states have recognized motorboats as “vehicles” under DUI statutes. Some states have specific boating under the influence laws, but almost all of them allow for prosecution under broad DUI laws.

Washington state, for instance, considers a BUI a misdemeanor, and a conviction will not affect someone’s driver’s license. It does count as an alcohol violation, however, and can affect probation for previous alcohol violations. The legal BAC threshold is sometimes .08%, but can be as low as .05% in some jurisdictions.

Can I get a DUI on a horse?

Generally, no. The vehicle must have a motor in order to be charged with a DUI. However, if you are drunk and disorderly while riding a horse, expect to face criminal charges.

A good rule of thumb is that if there’s a motor involved, the vehicle is most likely covered under some sort of DUI statute. While laws and definitions can vary from state to state and county to county, the surest way to avoid any kind of DUI charge is to avoid operating any type of vehicle while intoxicated.

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