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SUI: Scootering While Intoxicated?

Earlier this year the City of Cincinnati was inundated with Bird scooters. The pilot started in Over-the-Rhine, The Banks, and Downtown. Recently the scooters have been seen in Oakley, Mt. Lookout, and surrounding areas of Cincinnati. Another company, Lime-S, also introduced similar scooters downtown.

At the end of September, even Oxford and Miami University’s campus received a number of scooters: 100 Bird scooters, with 150 Lime scooters scheduled to arrive soon after.

Cincinnati officials and police have requested that scooters be used on the public streets. That said, it is common to see a scooter moving down the sidewalk. Miami University responded swiftly with new policies about where the app-based scooters can be used. Many people have asked us, what happens if you ride one of the scooters while intoxicated.

First question: do you need to be on the road or on public property to be arrested for an OVI/DUI? Not in Ohio.

The Revised Code prohibits operating any vehicle “within the state” while impaired; therefore, you can be cited while on your own property. For example, you can be cited for OVI for mowing your lawn on a riding lawnmower if you are impaired. So, arguing that you were riding a motorized scooter in a parking lot or in an apartment complex lot won’t, itself, avoid a citation.

Second question: But do Bird or Lime scooters even qualify as a motor vehicle?

The definition of a “motor vehicle” can be found in Revised Code 4501.01. And the answer to whether the Bird or Lime scooters qualify as a “motor vehicle” is unclear. Motorized scooters are not specifically listed in the Revised Code as a “motor vehicle.”

The Revised Code defines “motor vehicle” as “every vehicle propelled or drawn by power other than muscular power …except motorized bicycles…” The Bird and Lime scooters are propelled by “power other than muscular power.” So, it appears they qualify. But the Revised Code creates a specific exception for “motorized bicycles.”

“Motorized bicycles” or mopeds are distinguishable from Bird or Lime motorized scooters though because a moped has a gasoline-fueled engine. Even the Revised Code defines a moped based on its “piston displacement” which does not apply to Bird or Lime scooters.

Final Question: Where does that leave us in answering whether you can get an OVI/DUI for riding a Bird or Lime scooter?

R.C. 4501.01 defines “vehicle” as “everything on wheels or runners, including motorized bicycles, but does not mean electric personal assistive mobility devices…” Even if Ohio law is unclear about whether the scooters are motor vehicles, the scooters are clearly “vehicles.” And that may be enough to have you charged for OVI/DUI.

Ohio’s Revised Code 4511.19A1a prohibits a person from “operating any vehicle…within this state, if, at the time of operation…the person is under the influence of alcohol, a drug of abuse, or a combination of them” (emphasis added). Whether the City of Cincinnati, the City of Oxford or Miami University police departments will cite for riding Bird or Lime scooters under the influence of alcohol/drugs is unknown. But Ohio law does not appear to prohibit them from doing so.

If you receive a citation for operating a Bird or Lime scooter, make sure you seek counsel that understands the relevant law and can answer your questions.

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