Can You Get a DUI in a Motorized Wheelchair in Florida?

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In Florida, driving under the influence (DUI) laws apply to anyone driving, or in actual physical control of, a vehicle. Does that include motorized wheelchairs? The simple answer is yes, and the same rules and penalties can apply to a wheelchair DUI as to any other type of DUI in Florida. The sanctions include fines, jail time, suspension or revocation of a driver's license and mandatory attendance in a DUI substance abuse program.

DUIs in Florida

In Florida, the statute setting out the crime of driving under the influence is found in the Florida Motor Vehicles Section 136.193. It makes it illegal for a person driving, or in actual physical control of, a vehicle to either be under the influence of alcohol or drugs or to have a blood or breath alcohol level (BAL) above the legal limit — 0.08 percent or greater.

Although police can arrest someone for driving under the influence without administering a breathalyzer test to determine BAL, the prosecutor must offer evidence that the driver's normal facilities were significantly impaired in order to convict the suspect. If a chemical test establishes that the driver's BAL was 0.08 percent or above, the law sets out a presumption that the person was under the influence. All that the prosecutor needs to introduce as evidence are the facts of the chemical test. In Florida, all drivers are deemed to have consented to chemical testing.

Driving or In Control of a Vehicle

The question of whether someone can be convicted of a DUI in a motorized wheelchair depends on the language of the statute. While Florida's DUI statute does not mention wheelchairs at all, it is part of the Florida Uniform Traffic Control Law, and the courts read the entire code together to resolve this type of issue. The definitions for that chapter are found in Florida Motor Vehicles Section 136.003.

A vehicle is defined in that section as: "Every device in, upon, or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway, except personal delivery devices, mobile carriers, and devices used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks."

A motorized vehicle is defined as: "a self-propelled vehicle not operated upon rails or guideway, but not including any bicycle, electric bicycle, motorized scooter, electric personal assistive mobility device, mobile carrier, personal delivery device, swamp buggy, or moped."

Both of these broad definitions seem to include a motorized wheelchair as long as it is listed as an exception.

Exceptions to Definition of Vehicle

A motorized wheelchair is not used on rails or tracks and is not a bicycle, scooter or swamp buggy. That means it will be included in the definition of a vehicle, unless it is a personal delivery device or a mobile carrier. A review of the statute indicates that it is not:

The exception for a personal delivery device is defined in the statute as: "An electrically powered device that: (a) is operated on sidewalks and crosswalks and intended primarily for transporting property; (b) weighs less than 80 pounds, excluding cargo; (c) has a maximum speed of 10 miles per hour; and (d) is equipped with technology to allow for operation of the device with or without the active control or monitoring of a natural person."

The exception for a mobile carrier is defined in the statute as: "An electrically powered device that: (a) is operated on sidewalks and crosswalks and is intended primarily for transporting property; (b) weighs less than 80 pounds, excluding cargo; (c) has a maximum speed of 12.5 mph; and (d) is equipped with technology to transport personal property with the active monitoring of a property owner and primarily designed to remain within 25 feet of the property owner.

DUI for Motorized Wheelchair

Given that a motorized wheelchair is both a vehicle and a motorized vehicle for purposes of the Florida Uniform Traffic Control Law, it is possible for someone driving or operating it to be arrested for a DUI in this state. In fact, this happened in 2015 in a case that got quite a bit of publicity.

In that case, 54-year-old Florida man, Ronny Scott Hicks, was arrested in Palm Bay, Florida. That day in 2015, the police had received complaints about a man in a wheelchair blocking a pedestrian bridge. When officers arrived, they found Hicks in the wheelchair. According to the police, he was slurring his speech and acting confused. They believed he was intoxicated and arrested him. He refused a chemical test. As it turned out, he had two prior DUIs and so this was a third DUI charge.

Although this is not the typical DUI case in Florida, the Sunshine State is not the only one to apply drunk driving laws to users of motorized wheelchairs. A person can also get a ticket for driving a motorized wheelchair while under the influence in Colorado.

Penalties for DUI in Florida

Whether a driver gets a DUI for driving a motorized wheelchair, a motorcycle, an automobile or a truck, the penalties in Florida are the same. The sanctions depend in part on the person's driving history. A second DUI in five years will be punished more severely than a first DUI. A third DUI within 10 years of the prior DUI is punished even more severely.

For example, a first offense DUI carries a fine of between $500 and $1,000, a potential jail sentence of up to six months, and/or probation. The total jail and probation period cannot exceed a year. In addition, the driver must serve a mandatory 50 hours of community service and will have a license suspension of between 180 days and 365 days.

The maximum fine for a second conviction is $2,000, jail time is nine months, and license revocation is at least five years. For a third DUI within 10 years, the fine will be between $3,000 and $5,000, and jail time caps out at 12 months. The license revocation period is at least 10 years.

Aggravating Factors May Increase DUI Penalties

In addition, certain aggravating factors can cause penalties to rise. These include having a BAL of 0.15 percent or higher, or having a passenger in the car who is under the age of 18. Causing another person property damage or personal injury also increases the sanctions, and if the person's impaired driving kills another individual, the driver can get up to 30 years in jail.