On not getting arrested for rolling under the influence

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2009/08/10 10:01 -04:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2009/08/10/9862997.aspx

Very very very very offtopic. I can barely excuse myself for writing it; your reading it is simply unacceptable....

There are always multiple sides to any story.

And the subject of this blog is no exception.

The issue is the way that drunk driving or driving under the influence is handled with wheelchairs and power wheelchairs (henceforth known in this blog you are reading as the device).

This seems kind of important since I drink sometimes. As you may know if you read hear....

Now to start with the most important piece -- is the device considered a vehicle?

Now where I live now (Washington state), RCW 46.04.400 (which defines Pedestrian) claims that

"Pedestrian" means any person who is afoot or who is using a wheelchair, a power wheelchair, or a means of conveyance propelled by human power other than a bicycle.

So in my home place, even a power wheelchair classes me as a pedestrian, not a vehicle.

My top speed in standard mode is ~7mph, which is faster than any human can walk, really. But it can be outrun.

Now this is a crucial issue because although even public drunkenness while one is standing still can be an offense if one is disturbing the peace in some way, the penalties for doing so when one is in a vehicle are always going to be worse since the laws are crafted to consider the potential for harm to be worse in a vehicle.

There are nuances with items such as powered scooters (like I used to drive), and to be honest those nuances exist because the law here is not entirely clear as to whether such a scooter is a "wheelchair" under this legal definition. Though I have asked several police offices in Redmond and Bellevue and Seattle -- they all said that provided it is a medical condition they will consider it like a wheelchair.

Those same officers will not usually consider a Segway to be a wheelchair and there are entirely different nuances regarding Segways that I am not going to cover here except to say that sometimes even city or county ordinances call them out and restrict their usage in cases where incidents have occurred. Clearly they are not protected in the same way....

Generally when the law is written this way, it is for a good reason -- a wheelchair, even a powered wheelchair, is a natural extension of a person moving around on their own as best as they are able. There are fascinating nuances if one is not required to be wheelchair-bound but is instead joyriding in such a device, but I won't cover those much anyway since they are not covered by the law all that well, in this jurisdiction (or most jurisdictions, actually).

Now not all jurisdictions in the country or the world judge things the same way, so your mileage can obviously vary here, on all of the above points.

Once you get past determining what the device in fact is, one has to deal with the issue of how disruptive one appears to be  when they are drunk.

This is crucial when one is considered to be a pedestrian, since none of the laws regarding the use of breathalyzers (including the right of an officer to require one) are relevant to pedestrians. And since even in those few jurisdictions that might consider the device to be a motor[ized] vehicle are not licensed and thus compelling such a test is a very rough bit of uncharted territory that the average police officer does not wish to set any precedents in....

Thus obviously how much of a disruption a person is in the view of the police officer is the most important factor, in any case.

Things get even trickier at this point, as what the police officer is to do next is yet another very gray area.

Obviously there can be (and usually is) a certain amount of sympathy (or even pity) when someone is in a wheelchair. Especially if they are drunk, as it is natural to fill in so much in the way of motives due to the poor sod's lot in life, being stuck in a wheelchair, etc.

And in the USA, the image of the ADA-violating lawsuit that can get a police office disciplined, suspended or even fired and can cost the town more money than it really wants to part with is a factor that is hard to ignore.

It takes a real lack of both empathy and intelligence for a police officer to not be consciously and/or subconsciously be aware of these factors. Because of this, except for the most egregious offense (e.g. trying to drive the device in the fast lane of the interstate, running the device into a car or into people) will most often result in little more than working to get the person safely home or somewhere that no further ham can be done. This will seldom be an arrest and in most cases not even be a night in jail due to a reluctance to incarcerate someone in a wheelchair even overnight (jails are just not set up for such things, usually).

Now all of this has been gleaned from conversations with police officers as I have never been in a state that such a tough choice would need to be made. I don't think sympathy on the part of those officers led to then lying to me, though admittedly I have no way to check on that.

From that time in the scooter at TechEd 2005 where I was rolling between two different bars all night getting smashed to more recent incidents from time to time in the iBot, I have managed to get quite drunk on occasion, but to be honest never lost control of the scooter or the iBot (the iBot adds a new level of weirdness here since no matter how unsteady I feel the iBot doesn't and thus I stay balanced even when I have no real right to).

In a way, the attitude of law enforcement is generally designed to allow for not just me who is not causing a disruption but for others who might be -- a way to treat people who have this extra cross to bear like people.

Whether that is due to sympathy or empathy or pity or pragmatism or whatever, it is clearly a force.

And the net effect is that whether one likes it or not (and to be honest even I myself sometimes dislike it as it seems unfair) a person in a wheelchair is simply much less likely to get in the kind of trouble that someone who is not in wheelchair can.


Not so much.

But on the other hand neither is being stuck in a freaking wheelchair, so....

Tyler on 10 Aug 2009 6:34 PM:

more like freaking AWESOME wheelchair. :)

Katy on 11 Aug 2009 2:13 PM:

>>> (the iBot adds a new level of weirdness here since no matter how unsteady I feel the iBot doesn't and thus I stay balanced even when I have no real right to)

Which makes me wonder -- can you get the iBot drunk? :-)

[michkap]Reminds me of a bit from The Moon is a Harsh Mistress as Mike (the Holmes IV computer) spoke about this a bit:

    "I wish that I could have a drink," Mike answered wistfully, "as I have wondered about the subjective effect of ethanol on the human nervous system -- I conjecture that it must be similar to a slight overvoltage."

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