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If it has wheels, better not drive it drunk in Ohio

Posted by attorney Robert Walton

If it has wheels, better not drive it drunk in Ohio

Source: Injury Prevention; Aug 2006, Vol. 12 Issue 4, p 252-252

In Ohio you can be charged with driving drunk in a whole lot more than your car. Look at the Vermilion man arrested Friday for driving a lawn mower while intoxicated. Dondi Bowles pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges of being under the influence when he maneuvered his landlord’s riding mower to a drugstore a mile away. The judge scheduled his case for June 20 but ordered him to serve time until then for violating probation on an earlier drunken driving charge. Bowles thought the mower would help him avoid what became his third driving-under-the-influence charge in the past six months and fourth overall, according to police. ‘‘If I knew that was the law,’’ he said after court Tuesday, ‘‘I would have walked.’’ Walking’s a good idea in Ohio, where even a bike won’t save you if you’re drunk.

In the Buckeye State, the charge for drinking and driving is called OVI— operating a vehicle under the influence. And the definition of a vehicle is pretty broad. ‘‘It includes everything on wheels or runners, with few exceptions,’’ says Lt Rick Zwayer, spokesman for the State Highway Patrol. More specifically, the law says a vehicle is ‘‘every device, including a motorized bicycle, in, upon, or by which any person or property may be transported or drawn upon a highway.’’ It excludes motorized wheelchairs, trolleys, trains, and human powered devices that aren’t bikes. Mix anything else with too much alcohol and you’ll find yourself in trouble.

When it comes to odd vehicles, Cleveland lawyer Robert G Walton has heard it all. Drivers of bicycles and golf carts have been charged. So have boat captains and jet skiers, says Walton, who teaches continuing education courses in OVI law. ‘‘I don’t know that they’ve gotten to stilts yet,’’ he says, ‘‘But they’ve expanded the definition of vehicle to include just about anything that will get you from one place to another without putting your feet on the ground.’’

‘If you were to go out to Middlefield, I’m sure you would hear about some Amish people arrested for operating a horse and buggy under the influence.’’ The Amish do get arrested, says Lt Chad Enderby. Officers from his highway patrol station in Holmes County pull over several buggies every summer and arrest the drivers for OVI.

Painesville defense lawyer Leo Talikka remembers a highway patrolman writing a DUI ticket to a man on horseback in the 1970s. Talikka, chief assistant prosecutor in Lake County then, was forced to drop the charge. ‘‘The horse did not qualify as a vehicle,’’ he says. Pedaling or galloping under the influence may sound like a joke. But it can turn serious.

Statistics provided by the Ohio State Highway Patrol show that 35 of the 1696 bicycle drivers injured in crashes in 2005 were alcohol-impaired. So were three of the 139 drivers in the ‘‘other’’ category. That includes horses and buggies. Contributed by Les Fisher. From The Plain Dealer via CDC Public Health Law News.

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