Minnesota DWI Laws: What Motor Vehicles?

Minnesota DWI Laws: Motor Vehicles

In a “you couldn’t make it up” case from northern Minnesota, a man was arrested for DWI (that’s driving while impaired) for having too high of a blood alcohol content while driving…a mobility scooter.  The man was physically disabled and used the three-wheeled scooter, which had a maximum speed of 5.75 miles per hour, to get around.  He was initially convicted of the DWI charge, but fortunately for him, the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed his conviction, finding that the man was essentially a pedestrian, rather than the driver of a motor vehicle, while he was operating the scooter.

What can you get a DWI for driving?

As far as more serious DWI offenses go, it’s worth noting that you can be charged with DWI for driving things other than cars (mobility scooters aside!).  Minnesota’s DWI law prohibits driving a “motor vehicle” while intoxicated.  So what’s considered a motor vehicle under Minnesota law?  They are vehicles that are self-propelled—that is, they don’t move by human power.  They include the obvious cars and motorcycles, but also motor boats, off-road vehicles, snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles, and off-highway motorcycles.  A few other unusual items in this category include bulldozers, trolleys run by overhead wires, and cars that have temporarily broken down and are inoperable.  Things that are not motor vehicles include, as we now know, mobility scooters, as well as trailers and bicycles.

Why can you get a DWI for driving something that isn’t a car?

Although it might seem strange that you can get a DWI for driving a snowmobile or a bulldozer, it makes sense when you think about what the purpose of the DWI laws are—to keep Minnesota residents safe.  The Minnesota Legislature, in their infinite wisdom, have determined that you could just as easily hurt someone driving a snowmobile while intoxicated as you could driving a car while intoxicated.  If you’re planning to take beer along for a fishing trip or boat ride, make sure you have a designated driver, just as if you were headed out for a night on the town.

What else does this mean for me?

The fact that things like motor boats and snowmobiles are considered vehicles means that Minnesota’s implied consent law applies to you if you are driving one of these vehicles.  Remember our post on the implied consent law?  This law makes it a crime to refuse to submit to a chemical test of your blood, breath, or urine.  So if you get stopped by law enforcement while using a motor vehicle other than a car, you are still required to provide a sample for chemical testing.  This means if you’re cruising on your snowmobile and get stopped it’s every bit as serious as if you were stopped while driving.

Another reason why you should keep in mind that driving vehicles other than cars, if you’ve drunk too much, can get you a DWI:  the penalties are not more lenient for driving, say, a boat, while intoxicated.  Minnesota’s sentencing provisions for DWI don’t differentiate between whether your offense was the result of driving a boat or driving a car, so take the DWI laws seriously no matter what kind of motor vehicle you’re driving.

There is one exception for first time DWI defendants who are charged with boating while impaired, you generally don’t lose your license for the same duration as if you were driving a motor vehicle, but that is a one time only benefit and doesn’t apply for multiple DWI folks.

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