Berman & Asbel, LLP

In Pa., bicycles and motorized recliner chairs are vehicles under DUI and other laws

By now you have likely heard about the case of Dennis Anderson, the Minnesota man who motorized his La-Z-Boy chair by mounting it on a riding lawnmower and outfitted it with a stereo, cupholders and headlights and who, after imbibing some alcoholic beverages, was arrested and charged with Driving While Intoxicated.

If this case had occurred in Pennsylvania, Mr. Anderson's motorized chair would indeed be considered a "vehicle" for purposes of Pennsylvania's DUI law.  In fact, a device need not have an engine or motor to be considered a vehicle so it is possible and indeed it happens that bicycle riders are arrested and charge with DUI when riding a bicycle after consuming alcohol.  All that is required is the requisite amount of alcohol consumption and operation of a vehicle on a highway.  (By the way, bicycle riders can and do get ticketed for speeding.)

I have been asked whether one could be arrested for DUI while operating one of those motorized assisted mobility scooters that are marketed to senior citizens.  In fact, the definition of "vehicle" in Pennsylvania's Vehicle code specifically exempts, "a self-propelled wheel chair or an electrical mobility device operated by and designed for the exclusive use of a person with a mobility-related disability."  So Grandma or Grandpa might be able to escape prosecution for DUI if they have had a few beers or shots before hopping on their scooter but it is not a safe thing to try.

A couple of important legal definitions under the Pennsylvania Vehicle Code:

"Vehicle." Every device in, upon or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway, except devices used exclusively upon rails or tracks. The term does not include a self-propelled wheel chair or an electrical mobility device operated by and designed for the exclusive use of a person with a mobility-related disability.

"Highway." The entire width between the boundary lines of every way publicly maintained when any part thereof is open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel. The term includes a roadway open to the use of the public for vehicular travel on grounds of a college or university or public or private school or public or historical park.
(Note that "highway" does not just mean a roadway.  Courts have found that this definition can also include a parking lot or parking garage if there is public access to the lot or garage.)

As for what happened to Mr. Anderson, according to a KTLA news report, he pled guilty to driving while intoxicated.  Police confiscated the motorized La-Z-Boy because it was not street legal and put it up for auction on eBay.  According to the KTLA report, there was a bid for $43,000.00 but then the La-Z-Boy manufacturer claimed there was trademark violation and eBay was forced to cancel the auction.  A new auction of a "DWI chair" had a winning bid of over $10,000.00 which would go to the Proctor, Minnesota town coffers.  Meanwhile, Mr. Anderson's family was auctioning autographed photos of Anderson on his motorized chair to raise money to pay fees incurred.

Readers should not consider this  note to be legal advice but should consult with a competent attorney licensed in their state.

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