Electric scooters (e-scooters) are a popular choice for getting around large cities and even smaller towns because of their low cost compared to cars and ride-share programs like Lime and Bird. These companies provide short-term e-scooter rentals in more than 100 cities in the United States.
Because e-scooters don't weigh thousands of pounds like cars, you might think it's safe to use one after having a few drinks. But operating an e-scooter while intoxicated can be dangerous to you and pedestrians and likely will violate your state's driving under the influence (DUI) laws.
For the most part, state laws define DUIs the same. To prove a DUI in court, a prosecutor generally must show a person was:
Some states also require that the person was driving on a public—rather than private—road.
If you're drunk but not operating a vehicle, you can't be convicted of DUI. So, the first question for determining whether you can get a DUI on an e-scooter is whether an e-scooter counts as a vehicle—or motor vehicle—under your state's laws.
Some states' DUI laws apply only to motor vehicles, while the DUI laws of other states apply to all vehicles. In general, a vehicle is considered a motor vehicle when it is self-propelled by a combustion engine or an electric motor. If a vehicle is propelled by the operator doing some physical motion (like pedaling a bike), it typically doesn't qualify as a motor vehicle—and operating it won't violate DUI laws that apply only to motor vehicles (e-bikes usually are considered motor vehicles).
Because e-scooters are propelled by electric motors, riding them generally counts as driving a motor vehicle. In states where you can get a DUI for operating any kind of vehicle, e-scooters usually fall under the definition of "vehicle." Some states make exceptions, though. For instance, Wisconsin excludes electric scooters from the definitions of "vehicle" and "motor vehicle." (Wis. Stat. § 340.01(35) and (74) (2023).)
DUI laws vary by state, but generally, being "under the influence" means a person:
So, you generally can be convicted of a DUI based on BAC (called a "per se" DUI) or actual impairment. Depending on the law, the prosecution can prove BAC through the results of a chemical test of blood, breath, or urine.
To prove impairment, the prosecution needs evidence that the driver was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of driving. Examples of this kind of evidence include the results of field sobriety tests and witness statements that the driver was stumbling around and acting erratically.
In states where you can get a DUI on an e-scooter, the possible penalties are usually the same as those for a standard DUI offense.
The penalties for a DUI conviction often depend on the number of prior DUI convictions the driver has. Generally, the penalties will continue to increase with each new DUI conviction.
Having an elevated BAC (for instance, 0.15% or more) also can carry increased penalties.
Common penalties for a first-offense DUI often include:
Although some of these penalties (such as license suspension and installing an IID in your car) don't seem related to riding an e-scooter, state laws generally still require them for e-scooter DUIs. That said, a few states (like California) have penalties specific to e-scooter DUIs that might be slightly less severe than standard DUI penalties.
If you've been arrested for riding an e-scooter while under the influence, you should get in contact with a knowledgeable DUI attorney in your area. A qualified DUI lawyer can help you understand how the law applies to your case, educate you about possible defenses, and assist you in choosing the best course of action.