Under California DUI laws, anything self-propelled can be considered a vehicle. Under Vehicle Code section 21050 (VC), anyone riding or driving on an animal on public property is subject to the same laws as those operating a motor vehicle. In other words, these two laws make it illegal to ride a horse or operate a horse-drawn carriage while drunk, and doing so can result in your facing the same criminal penalties as someone caught driving under the influence.
Can You Really Get a DUI on Horseback?
Believe it or not, yes. There are many examples of this happening online, but one of the most shocking cases involved a man who was arrested after riding his horse on the 91 Freeway in Long Beach. When police gave him a breathalyzer, his blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was 0.19%, far higher than the 0.08% legal limit in California.
In a similar story from 2017, 53-year-old Donna Byrne was stopped by police for riding her horse down a busy highway. Byrne reportedly seemed confused and disoriented, so police gave her a sobriety test, where she was revealed to have a BAC of .161% -twice the legal limit. As a result, the woman was charged with driving under the influence and animal neglect for putting her horse in such a dangerous situation. Byrne was required to undergo alcoholism treatment and deemed unfit to care for the animal, which remained in the custody of the local sheriff’s department after the incident. The state also added charges of disorderly intoxication, animal endangerment, and culpable negligence.
What is a “Vehicle” in California?
In the case in Florida, the woman’s lawyer defended her actions, arguing that “Donna was a pedestrian by law, and you can’t be DUI as a pedestrian.” He couldn’t have used this argument if she were charged in California because our state requires those riding on or driving an animal to follow the same rules of the road as a vehicle, and because the state defines a vehicle as something self-propelled or powered by something other than a person. Since horses are horse powered, they would absolutely fall under these laws and those caught drunk driving on a horse can absolutely get a DUI while riding.
Interestingly, California’s definition of a vehicle for DUI purposes does not cover things that are not self-propelled, and the only reason it is illegal to operate a bike or rowboat while under the influence is because the legislature instituted separate laws covering these devices.
Riding in a Dangerous Manner Can Also be Animal Neglect
Just as the woman from Florida was charged with animal endangerment, those who ride a horse on a freeway or otherwise put it in danger can face animal abuse charges. Riding a creature on the freeway is highly dangerous, and doing so while under the influence of alcohol or drugs makes the situation much more likely to end in tragedy. Anyone who chooses to do something this dangerous would likely lose custody of their animal.
If you have been accused of driving under the influence or animal abuse, attorney Peter Liss can help. Please call (760) 643-4050 or (858) 486-3024 to schedule a free initial consultation in his law office across the street from the Vista jail and courthouse.
Creative Commons Image by Joahim van der Graff