Aug. 28, 2014 – A “motor bicycle” is a bicycle with a motor. Riders can still pedal the bicycle in the traditional sense, but a motor option can be triggered at will. Recently, a state appeals court ruled that a motor bicycle was subject to drunk driving laws.
Specifically, in State v. Koeppen, 2013AP2539 (Aug. 28, 2014), a three-judge panel for the District II Appeals Court ruled that a motor bicycle is considered a motor vehicle, “at least when the motor bicycle being operated is self-propelled, rather than pedaled.”
In June 2013, Thomas Koeppen was riding his motor bicycle in Waukesha when he approached the scene of a traffic stop by a Waukesha police officer. The officer had stopped a driver and was trying to conduct a field sobriety test.
According to the complaint, Koeppen was interfering with the traffic stop by maneuvering the motor bicycle too close to the scene. The officer told Koeppen to move away but he didn’t respond. Koeppen left the scene but then came back.
This time, a different officer had arrived at the scene and told Koeppen he was under arrest. Koeppen fled on the motor bicycle. The officer who pursued him said Koeppen’s feet were dangling off the sides and he was not pedaling but the bike was accelerating.
Koeppen finally stopped and the officer observed the ignition switch was on and the motor was functioning. Koeppen showed signs of intoxication. Upon a search, police found an open bottle of 50ml vodka and three knives, including a six-inch filet knife.
A test revealed that Koeppen’s blood alcohol level was 0.175, more than twice the legal limit. Koeppen was charged for a fifth or sixth operating while intoxicated (OWI) and a fifth or sixth prohibited alcohol concentration (PAC), in addition to other charges.
The Waukesha County Circuit Court dismissed the drunk driving charges, concluding that the OWI and PAC statutes apply to the operation of motor vehicles and the complaint alleged that Koeppen was driving a motor bicycle, not a motor vehicle.
But the appeals court reversed, noting that a “vehicle” includes “every device in, upon, or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway.” A “motor vehicle,” under Wis. Stat. section 340.01(35), is a self-propelled “vehicle.”
The appeals court rejected Koeppen’s argument that motor bicycles are generally treated similarly to bicycles, according to the legislative history.
“The fact that motor bicycles are ‘generally’ treated ‘similarly’ to bicycles does not mean that they are always treated similarly or the same,” wrote Judge Paul Lundsten.
Koeppen also argued unsuccessfully that if motor bicycles are considered motor vehicles, they would illogically be entitled to full use of traffic lanes, as opposed to a requirement that the stay as close to the right edge of the roadway as possible.
“Although the question whether motor bicycles are entitled to use of a full lane of traffic is not before us, our less than exhaustive look at this topic suggests that Koeppen’s argument is flawed,” wrote Judge Paul Lundsten, noting that that the rules of the road for bicycles applies to “motor bicycles,” but motor bicycles can be treated differently.
Finally, the court refused to accept the state’s argument that a motor bicycle “sometimes is and sometimes is not” a motor vehicle for OWI/PAC purposes.
The appeals court noted that in Koeppen’s case, the complaint sufficiently alleged that Koeppen was riding a self-propelled vehicle at the time police stopped him.
Whether a motor bicycle is considered a “motor vehicle” when a rider is pedaling and using the power source at the same time, the appeals court did not decide.