After a night out at the bar, my friends often joke, “Don’t drink and drive.” DWI/DUI is no laughing matter, but the humor lies in the fact that I am always driving… my power wheelchair.
I asked, could I actually be charged with drunk driving if I was over the legal limit in a wheelchair? Google had the answer – yes. It sounds ridiculous, but I suppose any intoxicated person could endanger the lives of others – even from the seat of a wheelchair.
I know you’re wondering… Have there been arrests? The answer to that question is also yes, but it’s a very rare occurrence. And the circumstances of the arrests have been “atypical” – not because a wheelchair was swerving on the sidewalk.
In 2012, a Michigan man was arrested for driving a motorized wheelchair with a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit. To make matters worse, he had stolen the wheelchair from a nearby senior living community.
A Florida man was arrested in 2015 for blocking traffic with his motorized wheelchair. Having had two prior DUI convictions, he (smartly?) refused a breathalyzer test, though police claim he was drunk. He was held on $5,000 bond.
Wheelchair DUI arrests aren’t limited to the streets, either. After mixing a cocktail of prescription drugs and beer, this Georgia man was arrested for operating his wheelchair erratically… inside of a grocery store.
Drunk driving laws are applied to wheelchair users outside of the United States, too. Falling asleep behind the
wheel joystick while drunk is grounds for arrest in Australia. Consuming six times the legal limit may have played a part in that Aussie’s arrest Down Under.
Of course, I’m not writing this to advocate for disorderly or drunken conduct in a wheelchair. I suspect most cops will give wheelchair users a pass on drinking – so long as you are not a danger to yourself or others. If you feel as though you have had too much to drink, take a break, drink water and ask for a push if necessary. I’d recommend calling a cab, but we know that wheelchair taxis don’t exist at night (or at all) in most cities.
Another concern I’ve had is drinking while driving. Illegal in most states and countries, there is really no way around it for wheelchair users. I’ve found no reports of a wheelchair user being arrested for drinking alcohol while operating a chair, so you should be OK having a beer at the street market or college football tailgate.
What prompted this article, though, was news of a ruling by the Oregon Court of Appeals. In 2012, wheelchair user James Richard Greene crashed into a truck while using a crosswalk. Prosecutors argued that his wheelchair qualified as a vehicle, and a jury convicted him of driving under the influence. On December 29, 2016, a panel of three judges ruled in State of Oregon v. James Richard Greene that a power wheelchair and its driver together fall under the class of “pedestrian” when using sidewalks and crosswalks. Mr. Greene was thus acquitted of his DUI conviction.
If you or someone you know has had a run-in with the law concerning drinking and operating a wheelchair, let us know about it in the comments below. And, remember to use your best judgment when partaking of alcohol. Drive safely out there – and watch for cars!