Can you get a DUI in an electric car?


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Tag Archives: scooter

Can you get a DUI in an electric car?

Can you get a DUI in an electric car?

Can you get a DUI in a tesla

Can you get a DUI in an electric car? As a DUI Lawyer in Orange County, which has a fair amount of Teslas,  have been asked a few times in the past whether or not you can get a DUI in a Tesla.  Presumably the same question would apply to any other type of pure electric car.

The reasoning here in the question is that, since an electric car, like a Tesla, does not have a gas motor, is it really considered a car, for legal purposes involved with a DUI?

The law does have definitions, and limits on what it applies to.  While there have been cases in other jurisdictions where someone has been arrested for all of the following:

California law does make some distinctions. For example, in one Orange County DUI case that our Orange County DUI Defense firm handled, and which we ended up winning a dismissal on DUI charges for, our client was charged with a DUI on a scooter. 

In California, the law only allows the charges for DUI to remain if the motor was above a specific horsepower.  Under California Vehicle Code VC §406(b), a scooter or bicycle must:

  • Have pedals and an electric motor that produces no more than 1,000 watts.
  • Be unable to propel itself more than 20 mph on level ground, including with assisted pedaling.

A motorized bicycle or moped classified under these requirements do not need a license plate, registration fee or insurance. They are not considered a “motorized vehicle”, and you cannot get a DUI if they meet the above requirements, or are under those requirements above. However, it’s important to note that you still must be 16 years old and wear a properly fitted bicycle helmet whenever you are riding.

For a motorized bicycle or moped to be classified as type CVC §406(b),

Can you get a DUI in an electric car?  Yes you can. In California, a DUI is defined as operating a motor vehicle on a public roadway while under the influence or while above a .08 blood alcohol level.

A car with an electric motor is still a “motorized vehicle”. As long as there was driving of any motorized vehicle, and the person driving was above a .08%, or was impaired and unable to operate that vehicle safely, a DUI can be proven.

California Vehicle code VC 415 defines what a motor vehicle is and says:

(a) A “motor vehicle” is a vehicle that is self-propelled.

However, there is an exception for the following motorized vehicles:

(b) “Motor vehicle” does not include a self-propelled wheelchair, motorized tricycle, or motorized quadricycle, if operated by a person who, by reason of physical disability, is otherwise unable to move about as a pedestrian.

Can you get a DUI in an self driving car?

Interestingly enough, the question becomes more complicated if the Tesla (or any other self driving vehicle) is doing the driving, and not the person with the driver’s license.

Unfortunately, under current California law, even if your self driving, self parking car is parking the car while you are not in the vehicle, you are still considered the person in charge (the “pilot in command”), and are still responsible for the car’s safe operation even when the car is operating out of your sight.

What that means is that if your car is driving itself and is parking while you are having a beer or other alcoholic beverage in a bar, and it gets in a collision with another vehicle, you are responsible for the safe operation and driving of that vehicle, and you could not only be held responsible for the accident, but could also be charged with driving under the influence (if you are above a .08% or are under the influence), even though you were not in the car at all. 

That law has been the subject of discussions regarding legislative change in the future, but for now, it remains the current law. So can you get a DUI in an electric car?  Under the current law, yes.

Contact us if you have questions for our Orange County DUI Lawyers regarding DUI and self driving vehicles, or electric cars, or if you need our services.