Minnesota’s View on DWI while Operating a Segway
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? The short answer is no. State courts have found that a Segway does not qualify as a motor vehicle for the purposes of a DWI charge. While you might be off the hook for a DWI case, there are other legal consequences that could follow operating a Segway while intoxicated in public.
If you have been arrested for an alcohol-related offense, you should never assume that the law will not apply in your case. While you might not be in jeopardy of a DWI conviction, you could face the hassle of an arrest or the risk of other criminal charges. The Attorneys of Gerald Miller could help you protect your rights in this situation.
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.
Other Legal Consequences You Might Face
It is important to remember that while the court in Greenman ultimately dismissed the two DWI-related charges, the defendant in that case did not even seek the dismissal of the third offense. That is because there is little doubt the state has the ability to pursue a prosecution for the failure to operate a personal assistive mobility device with due care. This is only one of the potential charges you might face if the police suspect you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol while riding a Segway.
Failure to Operate a Personal Assistive Mobility Device with Due Care
There are rules under state law that govern the use of Segways and other personal assistive mobility devices. These regulations are separate from the statutes that apply to drunken driving. In the Greenman case, the defendant was charged with failing to operate a personal assistive mobility device with due care under Minnesota Statute 169.212. According to the statute:
“No person may operate an electric personal assistive mobility device on a roadway, sidewalk, or bicycle path at a rate of speed that is not reasonable and prudent under the conditions. Every person operating an electric personal assistive mobility device on a roadway, sidewalk, or bicycle path is responsible for becoming and remaining aware of the actual and potential hazards then existing on the roadway or sidewalk and must use due care in operating the device.”
One criminal charge that cannot be filed in this situation is public intoxication. That is because unlike other many other states, there is no criminal offense for public drunkenness in Minnesota. In fact, there is a statute that expressly prohibits the police from making an arrest of an individual solely because they are intoxicated. While public intoxication might be a go-to charge in these situations in other states, that is not an option in Minnesota.
How Our Firm Could Help
Whether you are charged with a DWI or some other offense, our firm could help in a variety of ways. The police have been known to make arrests on charges without a valid basis, and this could occur in situations where you are accused of driving while impaired on a Segway or similar device.
What’s more, our team could help you develop a defense strategy if the state pursues other charges against you as well. Whether it is some form of traffic violation or another creative use of the criminal code, we could help ensure the state does not unlawfully pursue a case against you.
If you do face charges other than a DWI, our team could take the steps needed to help you prevail at trial. From investigating your arrest to advocating for you in court, we could aid in your defense from beginning to end.
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.
Although the state is prohibited from obtaining a conviction for DWI if you were traveling on a Segway, that does not mean the police will not arrest you under the charge. The state could also aggressively pursue other, non-DWI related charges in an effort to penalize you for your conduct.
Given what is at stake, it is vital that you reach out to our firm right away following an arrest. The sooner you contact us, the sooner we can start protecting your rights. Contact us today to schedule your free and confidential case evaluation.
Originally published July 2, 2016 and updated October 8, 2021.