Page last updated at 15:17 GMT, Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Is it illegal to drink and ride a golf buggy?

Golf buggies

The Magazine answers...

Welsh rugby star Andy Powell has been charged with drink-driving after being arrested in a golf buggy at a motorway services. What are the rules on drinking and driving vehicles other than cars?

Drinking and driving a golf buggy is, like drinking and driving a car, something which may well attract the long arm of the law.

The same goes for those navigating a quad bike or mini motorbike while under the influence.

But in these scenarios there is no strict alcohol limit, as there is with when driving a car.

Can be charged if unfit to drive a mechanically propelled vehicle through drink on a public road
MPVs include golf buggies, quad bikes and mini motorbikes
There is a separate offence of cycling while drunk
Similar drink driving rules apply to navigating a boat for recreation

So South Wales Police have charged rugby player Andy Powell with "driving a mechanically propelled vehicle whilst unfit through drink", under the Road Traffic Act 1988. In such cases, it is up to the court to decide what constitutes being unfit to drive on a road or other public place.

"This could lead to an anomaly where somebody is driving a mechanically propelled vehicle which is not a motor vehicle, whilst over the prescribed limit, for example a golf buggy," says Nick Freeman, the lawyer known as Mr Loophole for his skill at finding ways to get celebrity clients off driving offences.

"That person might be over the prescribed limit, but not unfit to drive... and therefore escape prosecution."

There is no definitive list of what is classed as a mechanically propelled vehicle, or MPV, but the Home Office says that as well as cars, lorries and buses, it includes other motorised vehicles such as mini motorbikes and quad bikes.

Man in a mobility scooter
Mobility scooters may be exempt

"It includes steam-driven and electrically-driven vehicles, as well as petrol and oil-driven," says Mr Freeman.

But mobility scooters are defined in law as motor vehicles, so someone caught drunk at the controls could be charged with either being unfit to drive, or being over the legal limit to drive.

In one recent case, drink-driving charges against a woman in Oldham were dropped, despite accusations that she'd been nearly three times over the limit while on her mobility scooter.

While the details of the case are unclear, it's possible a mobility scooter may be exempt if travelling on a footpath or bridleway.

At the time, a Crown Prosecution Service spokesman explained the complexities of the case: "Technically, mobility scooters are classed as motor vehicles and therefore the full range of motoring offences would apply.

"However, the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 exempts mobility scooters from certain offences when used within the stipulated regulations."

Two wheels

It is also against the law to cycle while drunk. Section 30 of the Road Traffic Act states: "A person who, when riding a cycle on a road or other public place, is unfit to ride through drink or drugs (that is to say, is under the influence of drink or a drug to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of the cycle) is guilty of an offence."

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If convicted, the maximum penalty is a fine of £1,000. But such convictions are rare, says Paul Ford, a partner at Kirwans solicitors in Liverpool. "I've only dealt with a handful over 10 years, they are few and far between and on that basis not generally prosecuted."

And there are laws against navigating a ship while impaired through drink. The Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003 also states that it is illegal to operate a boat while over drink-drive limit.

The government is currently considering changing the law so anyone navigating a boat less than seven metres in length and with a maximum speed of seven knots would be exempt from the alcohol limit.

But there is another means of propelling oneself fast from A to B which is not covered by alcohol laws, says Mr Freeman.

"There is no drink-driving limit for skiing which is farcical. There's nothing to regulate the amount skiers have if they're bombing down after lunch."

It is not covered by any of the above laws, because skis are not motorised or mechanically propelled.

In all of the scenarios above, the law is open to interpretation, which is why some charges of drink-driving may be dropped, and in other cases people are prosecuted.

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