Why Driving a Hoverboard While Drunk is Not (Yet) Illegal in Minnesota

When it comes to assessing drunkenness, the law sets a clear and measurable standard. The legal blood-alcohol concentration limit in Minnesota is 0.08 percent and the law unequivocally states that driving with a BAC above that limit constitutes driving while impaired. Violating that standard brings potential criminal and administrative penalties. But the law often lags technological innovation. When it comes to some newer modes of transportation, such as hoverboards and Segway scooters, the law is less explicit. Some recent court rulings are shedding new light on the question of whether a person can get a DWI while on a hoverboard in Minnesota.

In some states, lawmakers have taken the initiative to add hoverboards to their statutes governing drunk driving. California, for example, now makes it a crime to ride a hoverboard while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. But Minnesota law has yet to extend drunk driving penalties to electronic vehicles that carry a single person. Minnesota DWI laws apply only to motor vehicles. This class of vehicles does not include Segway scooters or motorized wheelchairs, which are classified as electronic personal assistive mobility devices, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Cases have made their way through the system alleging that driving a personal mobility device while under the influence constitutes drunk driving. A Hennepin County man who was stopped by police in 2012 after his Segway was seen drifting across the center line in the road was found to have a blood alcohol level of 0.19 – more than twice the legal limit, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported. The man was driving home from a bar less than a mile from his home. Prosecutors charged him with first-degree driving while impaired.

A Hennepin County judge dismissed the charges, leading Medina city officials to appeal. The appeals court shot down the city’s arguments, based on an interpretation of current Minnesota DWI statutes. “Had the Legislature intended to prohibit drivers from operating Segways while under the influence of alcohol, the Legislature could have included a specific provision proscribing that conduct, as it has done in so many other instances,” Judge Margaret Chutich wrote in the ruling, according to the Pioneer Press.

The appeals court viewed Segways under the traffic regulations governing pedestrians because the products are primarily used on sidewalks, the Star Tribune explained. In explaining that reasoning, the court cited a 2009 case involving a man charged with third-degree driving while impaired for operating a motorized scooter on Grand Rapids sidewalks. While hoverboards are different from Segways, they also are intended for use primarily on sidewalks. Furthermore, most hoverboards can’t reach the 12 miles per hour top speed of Segways. Based on court interpretations of that Segways and motorized wheelchairs are not motor vehicles, logic follows that hoverboards would also fall under the same classification.

It’s worth noting that the appeals court decision in the Medina case was not unanimous. Roger Klaphake, the third judge on the three-judge panel, argued in his dissent that the Segway meets the standard of a vehicle, which traffic regulations state include “every device” on which a person is “transported or drawn upon a highway.” Furthermore, people have been convicted of drunken driving for operating vehicles other than cars and trucks. The Star-Tribune cites incidents of drunken individuals driving a Zamboni, a lawn mower, and a motorized recliner chair. Nonetheless, the balance of legal thinking seems to interpret individual motorized transportation products as mobility devices, not motor vehicles. Unless Minnesota’s lawmakers change the state’s statutes to explicitly include hoverboards under drunk driving laws, it’s unlikely that Minnesotans can be charged with a DWI for driving one. Please contact us if you need more information about how Minnesota’s drunk driving laws apply to you.