Courts again rule in favor of Segway owner who was riding while drunk.
Mark Greenman had wrapped up a pool tournament at Inn Kahoots bar last February and was riding his Segway to his Medina home when he veered into the road.
Spotted by a Medina police officer, he was charged with drunken driving after he failed field sobriety tests and a breath test revealed a 0.19 percent blood-alcohol concentration.
"Incredulous," he recalled Tuesday about his immediate reaction to the arrest. Even after a few beers, he knew it was legal to ride the self-balancing stand-up scooter, because he'd beaten an identical charge two years earlier.
Greenman, 48, a Minneapolis employment attorney, was vindicated again Tuesday when the Minnesota Court of Appeals backed his argument that the Segway does not meet the definition of a motor vehicle under state drunken-driving laws.
The 2-1 ruling is Greenman's third Segway-related victory against the city of Medina. In the most recent case, the city had appealed a Hennepin County judge's dismissal of the drunken-driving charge because Greenman was not using the scooter for medical purposes -- an argument the Appeals Court rejected.
"There's not much to say other than they ruled against us," said Sgt. Jason Nelson, Medina's acting police chief. "We're disappointed, but the next step is to lobby the Legislature and see if we can put [the Segway] into a vehicle classification."
Nelson said he and City Attorney Steven Tallen haven't yet decided whether to ask the Minnesota Supreme Court to hear the case.
According to the Appeals Court's ruling, the Segway, which tops out at about 12 miles per hour, falls under traffic regulations pertaining to pedestrians because it is primarily operated on sidewalks, on bike paths and in buildings. The court cited the case of James A. Brown, charged in July 2009 with third-degree driving while impaired for operating a motorized scooter on the sidewalks of Grand Rapids, Minn., while drunk. That charge was also dismissed, and the Appeals Court upheld the decision, ruling that the scooter, a "personal mobility device," did not fall under the definition of a motor vehicle. The same applies for the Segway, Judge Margaret Chutich wrote, and keeping it out of DWI statutes "avoids an unreasonable and illogical result."
Appeals Court Judge Roger Klaphake disagreed, writing in his dissent that the language of the state's DWI codes includes self-propelled vehicles or vehicles "not moved solely by human power." Because of that, he reasoned, a Segway falls under the definition of a motor vehicle.
In fact, operators of vehicles other than cars and trucks have been convicted of drunken driving.
In 2009, Dennis Leroy Anderson pleaded guilty to drunken driving after he was arrested riding a motorized recliner chair from a bar in Proctor. The chair was later auctioned off for $3,700.
And in June, Joel K. Bruss was sentenced to two years of probation for driving a Zamboni in an ice arena while intoxicated. Bruss, 34, had pleaded guilty to a gross misdemeanor for the January incident in Apple Valley.
Operators of riding lawn mowers have been charged with drunken driving, too.
Greenman had a broken ankle at the time of his 2010 arrest, the reason he bought the Segway. He said he was driving properly but was stopped because he didn't have proper reflectors. He was then charged with DWI. He filed a motion to dismiss, and a judge granted the request. The city of Medina didn't appeal.
Nelson said the city decided to challenge the second case rather than the first because Greenman was no longer injured and was driving his Segway on the road. The Appeals Court ruled that disability is irrelevant in the use of "electric personal assistive mobility devices."
Still pending is Greenman's third Segway traffic case in Medina, which occurred in March and also involves a drunken-driving charge.
Nelson said the city isn't fearing an influx of drunken Segway riders.
"I don't think it's going to be the norm that people will drive Segways drunk," he said. "They're not that easy to drive sober."
Abby Simons • 612-673-4921