January 24, 2013 /24-7PressRelease/
-- Sometimes truth really does seem stranger than fiction. In the middle of an October 2012 night, a South Carolina Highway Patrol officer stopped the allegedly drunk driver of a huge tractor with an attached mower on Highway 38 near Interstate 95 in the vicinity of the small town of Latta.
The 48-year-old man in the cab behind the wheel of the pricey 2008 JD-6415 John Deere tractor was charged with driving under the influence
, and the tractor was left at a Florence, S.C., impound lot.
The defendant hails from the city of Conway. Conway street department employees would discover early that morning that the tractor they had left overnight on a work site had disappeared. After even offering a reward for information, Conway officials finally discovered their tractor more than a month later sitting in an impound lot 50 miles away.
The defendant was later also charged with the theft of the tractor.
What is a "motor vehicle" for drunk driving purposes in South Carolina?
People may be surprised to learn that most states not only convict people for driving traditional motor vehicles like cars, vans, motorcycles and trucks while intoxicated, but also for driving other, more unique motorized equipment, like the tractor in this case (although it is unknown if the Conway man has been or will be found guilty).
South Carolina law says that it is illegal to "drive a motor vehicle" while "under the influence" of alcohol or drugs, or a combination, that "materially and appreciably" impair the person's "faculties to drive."
The question then becomes how broadly did the legislature mean to define a "motor vehicle" for purposes of DUI? "Vehicle" is defined in the law as a "device" that transports people or property on a "highway" (not on "rails or tracks") unless "moved by human power."
This seems to say that a vehicle must be motorized or otherwise powered by a force other than just human muscle or exertion. For example, the state Office of the Attorney General issued an opinion that a moped driver could be charged with drunk driving even though the particular vehicle in question had pedals, since it also had a backup motor. In the same year as that opinion, the legislature amended the traffic law to confirm that they apply to mopeds.
What are other states saying?
Few South Carolina cases and other legal sources construe what constitutes a motor vehicle for drunk driving purposes, but, in addition to tractors, other states' law enforcement, courts and legislatures have struggled with these examples of modes of conveyance: snowmobiles, horses and devices pulled by them, bicycles, lawn mowers, motorized wheelchairs and similar mobility devices, golf carts, motorboats, all-terrain vehicles, dirt bikes and more.
And the answers vary widely by state as to whether particular "vehicle" types can support drunk-driving convictions.
In South Carolina, the safest bet seems to be not to get on any type of contraption that moves if you have been drinking or ingesting drugs that could significantly affect your ability to safely control it. But if you are charged with DUI -- while driving any kind of conveyance -- talk to an experienced drunk driving defense attorney to understand your rights and options, and to begin to build your defense.
Article provided by Drennan Law Firm
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