Segway mobility devices have become increasingly popular for vacationing, touring, and getting around in a fun and economical fashion. Most people have used one of these powered stand-up scooter devices or seen them in a movie or television show like Mall Cop.
Many people in the Twin Cities are aware that a person can be arrested for driving-while-impaired (DWI) for operating many types of motor vehicles. Since Segways are commonly used by those participating in tours or traveling, it may be tempting to use these portable transportation vehicles after consuming alcohol.
So, can you be convicted of a DWI while operating one?
Minnesota Courts Review Segway DWI Case
Under Minnesota law, conviction of DWI requires that the intoxicated person be “driving, operating, or in physical control” of a “motor vehicle” at the time of the arrest.
Motorists in many states have been charged with DWI while operating transportation devices other than conventional motor vehicles, such as boats. In State v. Greenman, 825 N.W.2d 387 (MN Ct. of Appeals 2013), a Minnesota court considered whether a person operating a Segway could be convicted of DWI.
The accused navigated a Segway electric mobility device a short distance to his home. An officer reported seeing the rider of the device drift across the divider line twice while almost causing a collision. The officer pulled over the accused and observed signs of intoxication.
The accused was asked to perform field sobriety tests that he failed. He was than arrested on suspicion of DWI, and a blood test revealed a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .19 percent.
The driver was charged with 3 separate offenses:
(1) third-degree DWI (driving while intoxicated)
(2) third-degree DWI (driving with an alcohol concentration of .08 or more)
(3) failure to operate a personal assistive mobility device with due care
Legal Considerations for Defining a Motor Vehicle
The accused moved to dismiss the two DWI charges, and the trial court granted this request. The State appealed that decision.
The Court of Appeals agreed with the District Court’s reliance on a prior decision State v. Brown (Citations Omitted), which held that a mobility scooter did not constitute a motor vehicle for purpose of DWI law.
The Brown court first analyzed Minn. Stat. 169 governing traffic regulations. The definition in this chapter expressly excluded an “electric personal assistive mobility device” from the definition of a “motor vehicle.” Based on the definitions of “driver,” “vehicle,” “pedestrian,” and “wheelchair,” the Brown court found that using a scooter was the equivalent of being a pedestrian.
The court further dismissed the notion that a scooter was a motor vehicle because it did not constitute a “device in, upon, or by which any person or property is or may be transported … upon a highway” under Minn. Stat. §169.011, subd. 92.
Because a scooter did not meet the definition of a vehicle, it could not be considered a motor vehicle under Minnesota DWI law.
Court Expands on the Legal Precedent for Segways
The court in Greenman found the Brown analysis to be equally applicable to Segways. While the DWI statutes do not define “personal assistive mobility device,” the term is defined in the traffic regulations chapter as a “self-balancing device with two nontandem wheels, designed to transport not more than one person operated by an electric propulsion system that limits the maximum speed of the device to 15 miles per hour.”
The court reasoned a Segway falls squarely within this definition; it is designed to travel in places that bicycles and cars cannot, including the inside of buildings. The court noted that Segways can operate on bike paths, but they can only be used on roadway in very limited situations. Finally, the court observed that case law reveals that Segways are used as a substitute for walking by the disabled.
The Court of Appeals dismissed the DWI-related charges because Minnesota law does not impose DWI criminal liability for operating a Segway while under the influence.
Why Seeking Legal Advice Immediately is Critical
If you are arrested and charged with DWI when operating a non-conventional mobility or transportation device, you should exercise your right not to speak with law enforcement or prosecutors and contact an experienced Twin Cities DWI lawyer at Gerald Miller, P.A. as soon as possible.
The sooner you contact us, the sooner we can start protecting your rights. Contact us today to schedule your free and confidential case evaluation.