Intoxicated man gets DWI driving ATV on public road

This case goes to show that driving an ATV on a public road makes it a vehicle and if you are intoxicated, it can get you jammed up for a DWI

That was the situation for a driver in the Southern District of Missouri who found himself riding his ATV on a public road. An ATV is not normally considered a “motor vehicle” if being driven in a field or on a farm away from publicly travelled roads. But once the ATV uses a “thoroughfare or a way for travel” used by the public, the ATV becomes a motor vehicle for the sake of DWI laws.

In this case, a teenager (“Victim”) wearing music head phones was walking his dog at night

through a residential subdivision on graveled, unlighted path (The “Road”).  It was at that moment when the Defendant was driving his ATV without operable headlights, struck the Victim and knocking his body 54 feet.

Defendant fell off the ATV.  The ATV had tipped over with beer cans scattering to the ground. Victim’s parents rushed out of their house to find Victim unconscious, blood pooling under his head. Standing over him was Defendant, smelling of alcohol, pushing Victim and telling him to get up. Victim’s parents checked for a pulse and called 911.

Defendant did not want the parents to call 911 stating that he “didn’t want the cops there.” Defendant picked up the beer cans, then tried to move the ATV and leave, but Victim’s father convinced him to stay put.

A trooper arrived, also smelled alcohol on Defendant’s breath, heard his slurred speech, observed his blank stare, and administered three field-sobriety tests which he failed.  The trooper determined that Defendant was intoxicated and arrested him for DWI. Trooper advised him of the implied-consent law and requested a blood draw. Defendant refused. Defendant told the trooper that he was driving the ATV and hit the Victim, and later admitted at a license revocation hearing, on oath, that he was drinking and driving that night.

The prosecutor charged Defendant as a persistent offender, with class E felony DWI, alleging that he acted with criminal negligence by operating a motor vehicle at night without a headlight, injuring Victim. A jury convicted Defendant, and he now appeals.

Defendant argued that he cannot be guilty of DWI because an ATV is not a “vehicle” or “motor vehicle” and the Road is not a highway or public roadway. However, the appellate court found that his reliance on State v. Slavens, 375 S.W.3d 915 (Mo.App. 2012) is misplaced because Defendant was not, for example, riding a dirt bike or lawn mower in his own yard, or a golf cart on a privately-owned golf course. Instead Defendant drove an ATV in a residential subdivision on a gravel road open to and used by the public and emergency vehicles. “[A]ny street, if designated as a thoroughfare or a way for travel, is understood to be a public roadway.” Gittemeier, 400 S.W.3d at 844. “Regardless of type of motorized device, if a person drives a non-traditional vehicle on a public road, such use can render that vehicle a ‘motor vehicle.’” Id. “Because [Defendant] drove his ATV on a road open to the public, he created a ‘clear hazard to the traveling public.’”

The appellate court affirmed the conviction by finding criminal negligence.  The appellate court stated that any “thoroughfare or a way for travel” is a public road, and driving an ATV on a public road can make the ATV a motor vehicle. Appellant was intoxicated while driving an ATV on a gravel road used by the public and by emergency vehicles in a residential subdivision. Those facts supported a finding of driving while intoxicated. Driving fast on a dark road with no headlights supported a finding of criminal negligence.

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