Mowing while Intoxicated?

Can the authorities in NH prosecute a person for operating a riding lawnmower while intoxicated?

Man Arrested in Minnesota for Mowing While Intoxicated

A Minnesota newspaper reported yesterday that authorities there arrested a man for operating a riding lawnmower while intoxicated. They are prosecuting him for DWI. Could this happen in NH?

'Vehicle' is an Element of the Offense

In order to prove a person guilty of DWI in NH, the government must prove certain 'elements' or legal building blocks of the offense, beyond a reasonable doubt. One of those 'elements' is that the government must prove that the accused operated a 'vehicle' - not a car or truck, not a 'motor vehicle', but simply a vehicle - something capable of transporting a person or property on a way. There is no requirement that the vehicle be motorized, so it could, in theory, be a bicycle. So a lawnmower certainly falls within the statute.

'Way' is an Element of the Offense

Another one of those 'elements' is that the government must prove that the accused operated on a 'way'. And 'way' is defined expansively in NH, to include not only public streets, but also privately owned and maintained dirt roads that are open to public use, the private parking lots of stores and other commercial establishments that are "generally maintained for the benefit of the public", etc.

The definition of 'way', however, does not include your own yard. So an impaired operator of a lawnmower, who does not drive off her own lawn onto an adjoining street, parking lot, etc., cannot be prosecuted for DWI.

Mowing While Intoxicated in NH - The Bottom Line

The answer to the question posed above - can the authorities prosecute a person in NH for operating a lawnmower while intoxicated? --- is yes. But only if the lawnmower is operated on a way, such as a street, dirt road accessible to the public, or even a private parking lot. If the operator remains on her own lawn, she should be in the clear. That's why they put those cupholders on the riding tractors, right?

Operating after Suspension - No 'Way'

It's critical to note a distinction between NH's driving under suspension law and the DWI law. To be guilty of DWI, one must operate a vehicle upon a way. However, once a person's license or operating privilege is revoked for DWI, they cannot operate a vehicle anywhere - not even in their own yard or in the woods. The driving under suspension law does not include 'way' as one of the elements that the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

--- Ted Lothstein