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Motorized Wheelchairs Are Not Vehicles States Oregon Appellate Court

Posted by Aaron J. Wolff | Feb 08, 2017 | 0 Comments

When most people here that a person has been arrested for DUI, the automatic assumption that people will have is that the person who was arrested was drinking while driving a motor vehicle like a car, truck, or motorcycle. While this is the case much of the time, there are instances where people are charged with driving under the influence while operating less conventional vehicles, such as a golf cart or even a horse. Just recently the Oregon Court of Appeals handed down a decision in a case of this type, though instead of a horse or a golf cart, this man was charged with a DUI while driving his motorized wheelchair.

James Richard Greene was using his motorized wheelchair while in a crosswalk. According to Reuters, he was “convicted of driving under the influence of intoxicants for slamming his wheelchair into a pickup truck” that was in the crosswalk. He was under the influence of both alcohol and drugs when the accident occurred. Oregon prosecutors believed that his motorized wheelchair met the definition for a vehicle and Greene was subsequently convicted of DUI. Greene appealed this conviction, arguing that “a person crossing a street in a crosswalk in a motorized wheelchair is a pedestrian and not the operator of a vehicle for purposes of the DUII statutes.” The state contended that “the meaning of ‘vehicle' under ORS 813.010 is broad and applies to a motorized wheelchair, including when the wheelchair is being used to cross a street in a crosswalk, and, hence, that defendant was subject to the DUII statutes when he drove his wheelchair on the street.”

To determine if Greene was a pedestrian or a driver at the time of the accident, the court looked at “whether, and to what extent, the operator of a motorized wheelchair is the driver of a vehicle for purposes of the DUII statutes.” In Oregon, the vehicle code defines a pedestrian as including those who are “confined in a wheelchair.” The court reviewed the arguments from both Greene and the state. Greene stated that the legislature hadn't intended for “pedestrians to be treated as operators of motor vehicles under the vehicle code.” However, he stated that there were situations where a person in a motorized wheelchair could be subject to DUII laws, such as if the wheelchair were being driven in the bike lane. The state argued that motorized wheelchairs fit in the definition of motor vehicles and that the legislature didn't specifically exempt motorized wheelchairs in the vehicle code as it had certain human-powered vehicles.

The court disagreed with the state, pointing out that “Had the legislature intended to treat users of motorized and human-powered wheelchairs differently for purposes of the DUII statutes –the former as vehicle drivers and the latter as pedestrians – it would have made that distinction in treatment explicit.” The court further stated that “the decision to define a person using a wheelchair as a pedestrian for the purpose of the vehicle code indicates the legislature intended the operators of all wheelchairs to be regulated and protected like pedestrians.” Though the state contended that motorized wheelchairs should be treated as bicycles, the court pointed out that the purpose of the passage was to prevent police officers from issuing citations to wheelchair operators. The court stated that the “legislature's decision to do that does not mean that the legislature intended motorized wheelchairs to be treated as motor vehicles regardless of where or how they are operated.”

The court ultimately decided that “a person using a motorized wheelchair under circumstances in which the person is a pedestrian for purposes of the vehicle code is not subject to the DUII statutes.” The court then stated that Greene was a pedestrian at the time he was operating his wheelchair and reversed the lower court's decision.

About the Author

Aaron J. Wolff

A former DUI prosecutor, Aaron Wolff has over 16 years of experience in representing people accused of DUI and is recognized as one of the leading defense lawyers in Washington State. His relentless and passionate advocacy has lead to superb ratings and outstanding reviews from former clients.

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