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Last Updated: Friday, 24 September, 2004, 18:47 GMT 19:47 UK
'Drunk rider' ruling stirs scorn
Man on horseback
The ruling says horses are not vehicles
'Too drunk to drive a car? No matter - just saddle a horse and hit the road.'

A court decision effectively permitting those over the legal drink-drive limit to ride a horse has been puzzling people in the US state of Pennsylvania.

Local press columnists are musing over the ruling, which concerns an accident between two horsemen and a driver - all of whom had been drinking.

The court said horses cannot be classed as vehicles, so the two horsemen could not be found guilty of drunk driving.

'Legal lunatics'

The decision by the state supreme court provoked a flurry of comments in local newspapers.

"The high court is vulnerable to ridicule if a drunk on a horse is involved in a serious accident," wrote Eric Heyl in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review.

"At that point, some might even label these legal scholars lunatics."

And a local judge, Justice Michael Eakin, offered his attack on the ruling in the form of a rhyme:

"'It's not vague,' I'll say until I'm hoarse,/ And whether a car, a truck or horse/ This law applies with equal force..."

'A really large dog'

At the centre of the case is an accident along a dark country lane in April 2002.

Keith Travis and Richard Noel, both on horseback, were charged with drunk driving after one of their horses was hit by a pick-up truck on the highway, whose driver was also over the drink-driving limit.

When the case came to court, the judge rejected the charges against the two men on horseback because, he said, the law did not regard their animals as vehicles.

Prosecutors appealed against the decision but the supreme court upheld the initial verdict.

An editorial in the Carlisle Sentinel offered qualified support for the ruling, arguing that horses - unlike cars - "are smart enough" to stop an inebriated rider from running into a ditch.

If riding a horse while inebriated was illegal, the editorial said, the law would make it clear that "riding horses - or donkeys, or oxen or even a really large dog - while drunk is a crime".

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