As I’ve mentioned before, DUI laws have often been applied to the operation of somewhat questionable “vehicles,” including Zamboni ice machines, recliners, wheelchairs, horses, motorized beer coolers, and (best of all) the motorized bar stool. There are really two different questions here: (1) does the thing being operated fit under that state’s legal definition of “vehicle,” and (2) even if it might, is there really any risk that the operator might harm himself or someone else? The answers aren’t always clear; for example, the answers for a bar stool would normally be “no” and “no,” but if the drunk in question has got himself a bar stool that will (allegedly) do 40 mph, that’s different.
Personally, I think the answers in a case that involves an unpowered raft are not difficult. And yet, in Alaska, of all places, a man has been charged with “driving under the influence” for “allegedly having a 0.313 breath-alcohol content as he floated through Fairbanks on an inflatable raft Sunday night.”
You know, I don’t want to live in a world where you can’t get drunk and float through town on an inflatable raft without being hassled by the Man.
“The vast majority of charges [under the law] are for terrestrial motor vehicles,” says the Fairbanks News-Miner, and that would make sense but it also makes sense (especially in Alaska) that airplanes and “watercraft” are covered too. In Alaska, “[a] person commits the crime of driving while under the influence of an alcoholic beverage, inhalant, or controlled substance if the person operates or drives a motor vehicle or operates an aircraft or a watercraft” while under said influence. The same statute provides that to “operate a watercraft” means
to navigate a vessel used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on water for recreational or commercial purposes on all waters, fresh or salt, inland or coastal, inside the territorial limits or under the jurisdiction of the state….
Emphasis added, and to me that’s the end of it. There’s no question that an inflatable raft is “capable of being used as a means of transportation on water.” He was using it for that purpose, or at least he was being transported on it by the river. We could argue about whether it qualifies as a “vessel,” I suppose, but it doesn’t matter because floating on a raft is not “navigating.” It is not doing anything, unless you think “not sinking” is doing something, which I don’t. And the fact that he was floating through town does not mean he was “navigating.” That’s where the river goes. So lawyer up, Mr. Floater, because you’re going to walk.
Assuming you are able to walk by then.
Did the state troopers do the right thing by pulling him out of the river? Yes, because at almost four times the legal limit, he probably would have ended up in the Bering Strait (I think that’s where you’d end up) or, more likely, in a bear. But did they do the right thing by charging him with DUI? No.
This also seems to be the consensus of commenters to the News-Miner‘s report, at least the ones that did not immediately veer off and somehow link this incident to Nazi Germany, UN black helicopters and/or ObamaCare.