A recent DelawareOnline article details the State’s attempt to expand the Delaware DUI laws to include driving off-highway vehicles while under the influence.

Off-highway vehicles are things like off-road four wheel motorcycles or “four-wheelers”, lawn mowers and hovercraft. Maybe even a Zamboni machine would qualify (we do have several ice rinks in Delaware).

 

The Delaware DUI statute, 21 Del.C. Section 4177 makes it illegal to drive “a vehicle” while under the influence. Title 21 Del.C. Section 4177(c)(4) defines “Vehicle” to include off-highway vehicles.

But cases interpreting the statute actually bar its application to off-highway vehicles. The problem is that there is another statute, 21 Del.C. Section 6816, which also makes it illegal to operate an off-highway vehicle under the influence. 6816 does not have the strong penalties that are found in 21 Del.C. Section 2118. In fact, the penalties are weak. But the Courts have to follow the weaker law. The following paragraph from the Court of Common Pleas opinion in State v. Larry Cole explains:

§6816 provides a DUI offense specific to those who are operating an OHV.  It states that “[a] person shall not operate an OHV while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or controlled substances as defined in §4177 of this title.”  21 Del. C. §6816.  Furthermore, the chapter of Title 21 containing this section includes another section that provides that “[s]hould any provision of this chapter conflict with other statutes, the provisions or requirements of this chapter shall apply.”  21 Del. C. §6833. The main difference between §4177 and §6816, and the reason for the dispute on the State’s appeal, is the penalty for their violation.  While a person convicted of violating §4177 faces a fine, the mandatory loss of their driver’s license and jail time, which is mandatory for second and subsequent offenses, a person violating §6816 only faces a fine and the possible impoundment of their OHV for a period of thirty days.

The Delaware legislature plans to modify the laws so that the prosecutors and police are free to charge people with DUI who are operating off-highway vehicles on the roads while allegedly under the influence of alcohol. To see a copy of the proposed legislation, House Bill 259, click here.

The question I have is, do we really need more DUI laws?  Is this change in legislation really designed to solve a serious problem that society faces, or is it just one more law that will rarely be applied? I mean, honestly, how often does the State of Delaware miss an opportunity to prosecute someone for driving their lawnmower drunk? Aren’t the police busy enough already that they don’t need to go out looking for folks on off-highway vehicles to prosecute?

 

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