A New Jersey man was stopped for a DUI in Hoboken, New Jersey after police found him intoxicated riding an “e-scooter;” the public scooters scattered across many cities that can be rented through a smartphone app.
Nicholas Cutrone, 26, was arrested this past weekend for DWI (the New Jersey equivalent of California’s “DUI”) for riding a e-scooter. According to police Cutrone was found “unsteady and staggering” when he unlocked the scooter and rode away.
“[Cutrone] was driving unsteady as he swayed back and forth appearing as if he was going to lose control at any moment,” said Detective Sgt. Jonathan Mecka.
Police say that Cutrone’s arrest marks the second drunk driving scooter arrest since the service was launched in spring.
As is the case with many cities here in Southern California, Lime e-scooters now sit on the corner of many busy intersections available to be rented to anyone with a credit card and a smartphone.
In August, a 45-year-old man because the first to be arrested for drunkenly operating an e-scooter in Hoboken after crashing, according to police.
Jeffrey English suffered multiple fractures to his face and mouth when he crashed his e-scooter between two cars. English “admitted to drinking a substantial amount of alcohol” before jumping off the scooter.
As I mentioned, e-scooters are already here in California, and I’m sure you’ve seen them around town. 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.
But can you ride after having a few drinks here in California?
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.”
Based on this language, it seems as though the California Legislature intended to treat e-scooter riders the same as traditional vehicle drivers the same, even when it comes to driving/riding under the influence.
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. Additionally, California Penal Code section 19.8 states that “any violation which is an infraction is punishable by a fine not exceeding two hundred fifty dollars ($250). This necessarily means that a DUI on an electric scooter in California cannot be charged as anything more than an infraction with a penalty of nothing more than the $250 fine. In other words, a DUI on a scooter in California cannot be treated like a misdemeanor DUI. It cannot carry the same penalties as a DUI and, as an infraction, it will not appear on the rider’s criminal record.
Unfortunately, police and prosecutors in California have been only considering the first law mentioned above and treating DUIs on e-scooters the same as a DUI in a regular vehicle. For this reason, it is imperative to hire an experienced and knowledgeable California DUI attorney to argue the difference in laws between scooters and vehicles.
I recently had one of these cases. My client, the scooter rider, was originally charged with a misdemeanor DUI as though he had been driving a traditional vehicle. If convicted as a misdemeanor, my client was looking at three to five years of probation, an 18-month DUI course (because he had a prior conviction), 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.