James K. Minick

James K. Minick

In general, being charged with Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) means that a person has been caught driving a car while intoxicated. However, under North Carolina law, a person can be charged with a DWI, even if they are not necessarily driving a car.

Definition of a Vehicle

In order to convict a person of DWI, the State must prove that person was driving a vehicle while intoxicated. At a glance, the word vehicle is difficult to define since it could mean any number of things, ranging from a car to a spaceship. To solve this problem, under N.C. General Statute § 20-4.01(49), a vehicle is defined as anything that can be used to transport a person or property, on a public highway. N.C. General Statute § 20-4.01(49) also states that a bicycle is considered to be a vehicle when used on a public highway because a bicycle rider must follow all the same laws of the road as a car. Additionally, a moped is considered a vehicle if it has two or three wheels, no external shifting device, a engine no larger then 50 cubic centimeters, and a max speed of less then 30 miles per hour.

Exceptions to the Definition of a Vehicle

There are also various exceptions to this law.  Exclusions explicitly stated are: anything that is human powered, used exclusively on fixed rails or tracks, or any motorized personal scooter that travels less then 15 miles per hour. Generally, the following are also examples of things that are excluded from the definition of a vehicle:

  • Wheelbarrows
  • Trains and trolleys
  • Motorized scooters for medical impairments (Max speed of less then 15 mph)
  • Motorized wheelchairs
  • Rollerblades
  • Skateboards

Prior Cases Regarding Vehicles

There have been a wide range of cases in North Carolina regarding what constitutes a vehicle for the purposes of a DWI. In State v. Green, 251 N.C. 141 (1959), it was determined that a tractor used for farming qualified as a vehicle for a DWI charge. In State v. Crow, 175 N.C. App. 119 (2005), the court found that an electric stand-up scooter was also within the definition of a vehicle to uphold a DWI conviction. However, in Lewis v. Watson, 229 N.C. 20 (1948), it was found that a handcart, being pushed by a person, did not qualify as a vehicle for purposes of a DWI.

As you can see, although there are laws defining what is considered a vehicle for the purposes of a DWI, there are a variety of situations that can arise where it is hard to determine whether a thing should be considered a vehicle. Although there may be a situation where the thing may be excluded, the laws defining a vehicle were written to be very broad in order to give the State the ability to charge a person a DWI in most circumstances. As such, a person should always consider the ramifications of being charged with a DWI when using anything as transportation after drinking.

If you have been charged with a DWI, don’t hesitate to Contact Us at Minick Law, P.C., for a free consultation about your case.

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