If you are like me, after mowing the lawn and job well cut, you may enjoy a cold refreshing adult beverage. With that frosty refreshment in mind, I stumbled upon a recent, and unique, Wisconsin Court of Appeals decision that held that a riding lawn mower is a “motor vehicle” for purposes of Wisconsin’s Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) statute. Since we are in the doldrums of winter, I figured the case was worth a share as a humorous public service announcement during these dark and cold days.
In the recent State v. Shoeder case, following his departure from a local tavern, the defendant was arrested for an OWI while he was operating a riding lawn mower on the shoulder of a public roadway. The defendant moved to dismiss the charge, arguing that a riding lawn mower is not a “motor vehicle” within the meaning of the OWI statute, and instead it was more akin to Wisconsin’s definition of an “all-terrain vehicle” (OWI while on an ATV had different penalties). The trial court and Court of Appeals disagreed with the defendant’s position.
In reaching its decision, the Court of Appeals looked at the definitions of “motor vehicle” and “vehicle.” Under Wisconsin law, a “motor vehicle” is any vehicle that “is self-propelled, except a vehicle operated exclusively on rail.” Crucial to the decision was the broadly defined “vehicle,” which includes “every device in, upon, or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway, except railroad trains.” Wis. Stat. § 340.01(74).
Applying these definitions to the defendant’s chosen conveyance, the court determined that the riding lawn mower was a “motor vehicle” and “vehicle;” it is self-propelled and a device on which a person may be transported on a highway. The court further rejected the defendant’s argument that the riding lawn mower should be considered an “all-terrain vehicle,” as it did not meet the ATV definition requirement of being “equipped with a seat designed to be straddled by the operator.” Wis. Stat. § 340.01(2g).
It is important to highlight a very important fact that led to this defendant’s predicament: He was using the riding lawn mower on the shoulder of a public roadway. As with any OWI in Wisconsin, the operation must have taken place on a public roadway or highway; a homeowner’s lawn is not going to be considered a public roadway for purposes of the OWI statute should someone make the mistake to over imbibe. That all said, the safest route is to limit your beer consumption to when you are done cutting the lawn and are sitting back enjoying the fruits of your labor.