The Charlotte Observer reported that a man who was involved in a scooter accident in June died on Friday. The man was driving his scooter around 5:30 a.m. on June 24th in the University City area, when he ran the scooter off the right side of his road and crashed. He was taken to the hospital with life-threatening injuries. At the hospital, he was charged with DWI. This accident shows that driving any vehicle while impaired can be dangerous, and also raises the issue of how DWI law in North Carolina deals with scooters or mopeds.
The driving while impaired statute in North Carolina is contained in G.S. 20-138.1 and states that
A person commits the offense of impaired driving if he drives any vehicle upon any highway, any street, or any public vehicular area within this State:
(1) While under the influence of an impairing substance; or
(2) After having consumed sufficient alcohol that he has, at any relevant time after the driving, an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more. The results of a chemical analysis shall be deemed sufficient evidence to prove a person's alcohol concentration; or
(3) With any amount of a Schedule I controlled substance, as listed in G.S. 90-89, or its metabolites in his blood or urine.
Typically, when we think of someone violating the DWI statute, we imagine someone driving a car or truck. However, the statute makes it a crime to drive any “vehicle” while impaired. The statutory definition of a vehicle is fairly broad and includes not only mopeds but also bicycles. G.S. 20-4.01(49) defines a vehicle as
Every device in, upon, or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway, excepting devices moved by human power or used exclusively upon fixed rails or tracks; provided, that for the purposes of this Chapter bicycles shall be deemed vehicles and every rider of a bicycle upon a highway shall be subject to the provisions of this Chapter applicable to the driver of a vehicle except those which by their nature can have no application. This term shall not include a device which is designed for and intended to be used as a means of transportation for a person with a mobility impairment, or who uses the device for mobility enhancement, is suitable for use both inside and outside a building, including on sidewalks, and is limited by design to 15 miles per hour when the device is being operated by a person with a mobility impairment, or who uses the device for mobility enhancement. This term shall not include an electric personal assistive mobility device as defined in G.S. 20-4.01(7a).
Unlike motor vehicles, however, there are few requirements for driving a moped. G.S. 20-10.1 states that
It shall be unlawful for any person who is under the age of 16 years to operate a moped as defined in G.S. 105-164.3 upon any highway or public vehicular area of this State.
We then look to G.S. 105-164.3 for the definition of moped, which is
A vehicle that has two or three wheels, no external shifting device, and a motor that does not exceed 50 cubic centimeters piston displacement and cannot propel the vehicle at a speed greater than 30 miles per hour on a level surface.
Therefore, provided that the vehicle meets the definition of a moped, a person over the age of 16 years may operate it without a license or registration, much like a bicycle. If the vehicle has a larger motor or travels faster than the statutory definition of a moped, it is treated as a motorcycle, which then requires the operator to be licensed and the vehicle to be registered. However, as long as the vehicle meets the statutory definition of a moped, a person whose driver’s license has been revoked or who never had a driver’s license at all can operate a moped.
North Carolina DWI law follows the theory of implied consent as defined in G.S. 20-16.2(a) which states that
Any person who drives a vehicle on a highway or public vehicular area thereby gives consent to a chemical analysis if charged with an implied-consent offense. Any law enforcement officer who has reasonable grounds to believe that the person charged has committed the implied-consent offense may obtain a chemical analysis of the person.
However, the statute goes on to provide that
Under the implied-consent law, you can refuse any test, but your drivers license will be revoked for one year and could be revoked for a longer period of time under certain circumstances, and an officer can compel you to be tested under other laws.
So if a person charged with DWI while riding their moped refuses to submit to a breath test, the police officer must warn them that their driver’s license will be revoked for a year by refusing the test. But we’ve already discussed that no driver’s license is needed to operate a moped, right? The statute would still allow the revocation of your driver’s license even though you were not using it to operate the moped, and the DWI charge would go on your driving record.
One last interesting thought on mopeds and impaired driving offenses. G.S. 20-138.2 contains the offense for driving after drinking by a person less than 21 years old. It states that
It is unlawful for a person less than 21 years old to drive a motor vehicle on a highway or public vehicular area while consuming alcohol or at any time while he has remaining in his body any alcohol or controlled substance previously consumed, but a person less than 21 years old does not violate this section if he drives with a controlled substance in his body which was lawfully obtained and taken in therapeutically appropriate amounts.
This statute makes it a crime for a person less than 21 to drive a “motor vehicle” with a blood alcohol concentration of even 0.01. However, because a moped is not a motor vehicle, a person under 21 would not be violating this statute if they had a blood alcohol concentration of as much as 0.07 while operating a moped.
If you have been charged with DWI in North Carolina, contact an attorney at Rosensteel Fleishman, PLLC (704) 714-1450, right away.