State appeals court says Grand Rapids man's motorized scooter is akin to a wheelchair, not a motor vehicle.
A physically disabled man arrested for drunken driving on a scooter he uses to get around cannot be convicted, because the machine is not a motor vehicle under state law, the Minnesota Court of Appeals said Monday.
Over the years, people behind the wheel of a riding lawnmowers and even a customized motorized recliner have been charged with drunken driving. But the Appeals Court reversed the conviction of James Anthony Brown Jr., who was charged in July 2009 with third-degree driving while impaired for driving his motorized scooter on the sidewalks of Grand Rapids while drunk. Brown argued that he should not be charged because he was not driving a motor vehicle.
According to the opinion, the scooter has a maximum speed of 5.75 miles per hour. On the day in question, he drove the scooter to a local car dealership, where employees called police. Brown took a breath test and tested 0.17 for alcohol concentration. He was charged with third-degree DWI because he had a previous DWI conviction.
Brown was convicted of a gross misdemeanor. He appealed, arguing that if his scooter is considered a motor vehicle, his constitutional due process and equal protection rights were violated. The scooter does not require a driver's license to operate and does not require insurance or license plates.
The appeals court pointed out that the state's definition of motor vehicle includes "every vehicle which is self-propelled," with the exception of "an electric personal assistive mobility device." Statutes define pedestrians as "any person afoot or in a wheelchair." The definition of wheelchair includes "any manual or motorized wheelchair, scooter, tricycle, or similar device used by a disabled person as a substitute for walking."
The court concluded that Brown's scooter is a wheelchair, not a motor vehicle, and overturned the conviction. It did not address his constitutional rights because the case was decided on that definition alone.