When most people hear the term “driving under the influence,” they assume that the driver was illegally operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated by alcohol.
In fact, DUI laws apply to more than just motor vehicles and alcohol; criminal charges can be brought against individuals who operate a variety of vehicles under the influence of any substance that impairs their ability to operate it safely.
From bicycles to horses, operators are often surprised to be charged with DUI while under the influence of alcohol, prescription medications, marijuana and other substances. Those charged with DUI are subject to fines, loss of their driver’s license, possible jail time and other penalties, making a lack of knowledge of California’s DUI laws a costly mistake.
While DUI laws vary by state, below we look at how statutory interpretation has expanded the common notion of DUI and five unusual ways that you can get charged with a DUI in California.
California Vehicle Code §23152(a) states that “it is unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any alcoholic beverage to operate a motor vehicle.”
While seemingly straightforward, interpretations of the statute have expanded the traditional definition of DUI to include a range of activities beyond driving a car, truck, or motorcycle, and broadened alcohol intoxication to include medications and other substances that impair the individual’s ability to operate the “vehicle” safely.
Cycling has been gaining popularity: as an environmentally-friendly alternative to driving a car that is cheaper and easier to navigate in large cities than traditional vehicles, many see riding a bicycle as a better substitute than driving a car.
As commuters’ bicycle use increases, so does the occurrence of dui on a bicycle riding a bicycle while intoxicated. While not all states penalize “drunk cycling,” others have made provisions within their DUI laws to address those who ride a bicycle while under the influence. In California, under California Vehicle Code §21200.5, intoxicated individuals who ride a bicycle on public roadways can be charged with DUI and face a $250 fine.
Operating a boat while intoxicated is also a crime in California. Known as “boating under the influence” or “BUI”, this charge usually results in a misdemeanor offense, with the possibility of up to one year in jail and a maximum fine of $1,000 under California Harbors & Navigation Code 655. However, if injury or other damage occurs during the incident or if there are prior offenses, a BUI can be charged as a felony in California, resulting in up to a 3-year jail sentence.
Pilots who operate an aircraft in California while intoxicated should also beware: under California Public Utilities Code §21407 both pilots and their crew can be charged with “flying under the influence” or “FUI” and face up to six months in county jail and a $1,000 maximum fine. Additionally, there are federal laws that prohibit FUI which carry even harsher penalties than state law: up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Riding a horse or other animal while under the influence can also lead to criminal charges.
California Vehicle Code §21050 states that individuals who ride animals in public roadways have all the rights and duties of motorists: this includes riding while sober. While not illegal in all states, California penalizes “drunk riding” the same as driving under the influence.
California Vehicle Code §23152(f) prohibits an individual from operating a vehicle under the influence of any “drug”, defined as any substance other than alcohol that could affect your nervous system, brain or muscles. While it may be obvious that driving under the influence of street drugs such as cocaine or heroin is illegal, other substances like prescription medications or over-the-counter drugs can also be classified as drugs and result in a charge. A mixture of drugs and alcoholic beverages that leads to impairment is also illegal in California under §23152(g).
California law is unusual in that it takes an additional step to prevent individuals from driving under the influence; under California Vehicle Code §23152(c), it is illegal for any person who is addicted to the use of any drug from operating a vehicle, unless they are participating in an approved drug treatment program.
If you are facing a DUI conviction in California, it’s important to consult a knowledgeable DUI defense attorney. Because charges are based in part on the subjective view of the arresting officer and testing and procedural errors are common, many DUIs can be successfully fought in court. With a strong defense, you can avoid the heavy penalties for driving under the influence in California and prevent one mistake from potentially risking your freedom and livelihood.
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