I’m sure you’ve seen them around town. First it was the rentable bicycles on sidewalks throughout Southern California. Now it’s electric scooters as an alternative to walking around town for pedestrians in urban areas like downtown Los Angeles or my neck of the woods, Long Beach.
How do they work? Well, like many things today, there’s an app for it. Download the app onto your smartphone for one the scooter companies that offer their services in your area; Bird, Lime, Skip, Scoot, or Spin. Once downloaded, you can access a map that tells you where the nearest scooter is. Find the nearest scooter, enter your credit card number into the app, and scan the bar code on the scooter with your smartphone to unlock the scooter. Ride.
This week, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer said that his office secured the conviction of Nicholas Kauffroath, 28, for driving a rentable scooter under the influence.
Kauffroath was riding a rentable Bird scooter in West Los Angeles when he collided with a pedestrian and scooted away without rendering help or providing information.
Law enforcement found Kauffroath at a nearby apartment building where they were able to test his blood alcohol content, which registered at 0.279 percent; more than three times the legal limit.
Kauffroath subsequently pleaded no contest to one count of misdemeanor operating a motorized under the influence and one count of misdemeanor hit and run. He was sentenced to three years of informal probation, a $550 fine, a three-month DUI program, and was ordered to stay off scooters while drinking.
“Drinking while operating a vehicle, a bike – or a scooter – is not only illegal, but can lead to serious injury or worse,” Feuer said in a statement. “This conviction demonstrates our office’s continued effort to enforce our drunk driving laws and make our streets and sidewalks safer.”
While the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office treated Kauffroath’s case as though it was a standard DUI with a vehicle based on the sentence he received, the law regarding DUI’s on scooters is not necessarily the same as a DUI with a vehicle.
California Vehicle Code section 21221 states in pertinent part, “Every person operating a motorized scooter upon a highway…is subject to all…provisions concerning driving under the influence of alcoholic beverages or drugs.” Under this section, it seems as though Kauffroath’s sentence was not wholly inconsistent with vehicle DUI laws regarding punishment.
However, section 21221.5 states in pertinent part, “[I]t is unlawful for any person to operate a motorized scooter upon a highway while under the influence of an alcoholic beverage or any drug, or under the combined influence of an alcoholic beverage and any drug…A conviction of a violation of this section shall be punishable by a fine of not more than two hundred and fifty dollars ($250).”
The conundrum here is that in the latter section, the penalty for a DUI on a scooter cannot, under the law, be more than $250. This necessarily means that a DUI on an electric scooter cannot be charged as anything more than an infraction with a penalty of nothing more than the $250 fine.
Of course, I don’t know exactly what discussions and/or negotiations occurred between Kauffroath’s defense attorney and the City Attorney’s office regarding his plea deal. I can say that I recently had one of these cases, which was originally charged as a misdemeanor. If convicted as a misdemeanor, my client was looking at three to five years of probation, an 18-month DUI course, fines and fees, and a probation violation for a previous DUI conviction, which could have very well led to jail time. However, after arguing that the language of the law only allowed for a fine of no more than a $250 fine, the case was dropped to an infraction with that $250 fine.
It should be noted that, before scooter renters are allowed to rent and ride the scooters, they are required to confirm that they will not ride while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.