We are seeing an increasing amount of people charged with drink driving on lime scooters and other electric devices on Queensland roads and being required to appear in court.
Rules Relating to Lime Scooters
Lime scooters (and other “rideables”) are permitted to be used in Queensland subject to strict rules. In broad terms, you must be at least 16 years old (or 12 years old, with adult supervision), wear a helmet, not carry passengers, you must not use your mobile phone, drive on footpaths, and avoid driving on roads as much as possible. You may drive on roads if you are crossing the road at a crossing, avoiding an obstruction on the footpath, or driving on a local road. If you breach any of these rules, you will be fined. Fines for breaching these rules start at $130.00.
More importantly, you cannot use a Lime scooter if you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This offence is considered a more serious offence and must be dealt with by a court.
The Nature of the Offence
There is no specific offence of drink-driving on a Lime scooter. Instead, Queensland’s traffic legislation creates a broad offence, which includes horses, other animals, or “any vehicle (other than a motor vehicle)”. You may commit the offence by either “driving” any of the things listed or “being in charge” of them. The phrase “in charge” is also quite broad but, in essence, requires you only to be able to “drive” the thing in question without first taking control of the thing from someone else. What constitutes being “in charge” of something depends on all the circumstances at the time that the police allege the offence was committed.
The traffic legislation contains its own definition of “vehicle”. It is defined as “any type of transport that moves on wheels and a hovercraft but does not include a train or tram”. Limes scooters clearly fall within this wide definition of “vehicle”.
It is also important to note that you must be “on a road” in order to commit this offence. Again, the legislation provides a technical definition of “road” that is somewhat different to the way the word is used in ordinary use. This definition includes busways and any area that is “open to be used by the public and is developed for, or has as 1 of its uses, the driving or riding of motor vehicles, whether on payment of a fee or otherwise”. A simpler way to understand this definition may be to say that a “road” is something that is used for driving motor vehicles, either by design or by convention.
Conviction for this offence attracts a maximum penalty of a $5,222.00 fine (as at the time of writing) or 9 months’ imprisonment.
Does a Licence Disqualification Apply?
The legislation does not dictate that a mandatory period of disqualification from driving attaches to this offence. This makes sense, as you do not generally need a licence to ride horses, or drive vehicles that are not motor vehicles.
However, the court does have a general power to disqualify the licences of anyone convicted of an offence “in connection with or arising out of the operation, or the interference in any way with the operation, of a motor vehicle by the offender”. This power is not limited to traffic offences. In short, any offence where a motor vehicle is involved may cause the court to consider disqualifying the convicted person’s licence. Examples where this power has been exercised include wilful damage, threatening violence, wilful and unlawful destruction of parts of a motor vehicle, possession of liquor in a restricted area, assault occasioning bodily harm whilst armed, etc.
But this power only relates to “motor vehicles”. In order for the court to disqualify your licence following conviction for drink-driving on a Lime scooter, you would need to have somehow interfered, in any way, with the operation of a motor vehicle (ie, a motor vehicle being driven by someone else). It is not difficult to imagine circumstances where a Lime scooter operated by someone who is intoxicated interferes with other road users.
Alternatively, the scooter itself would have to be classified as a “motor vehicle”. This is where things get complicated.
The transport legislation defines a “motor vehicle” as “a vehicle propelled by a motor that forms part of the vehicle and … does not include a motorised scooter, a personal mobility device or a power-assisted bicycle.” This definition explicitly excludes Lime scooters (and similar rideables), hence the mandatory periods of disqualification under the transport legislation do not apply.
However, the Act that gives the court the general power to disqualify licences does not contain its own definition of “motor vehicle”. Furthermore, Queensland’s Criminal Code contains its own, expansive definition of a “motor vehicle”. The Criminal Code defines a “motor vehicle” as “any machine or apparatus designed for propulsion wholly or partly by gas, motor spirit, oil, electricity, steam, or other mechanical power, and also includes a motor cycle, or a caravan, caravan trailer or other trailer designed to be attached to a motor vehicle”. This catch-all definition does not distinguish between machines designed for propulsion on land or propulsion on water.
A “vehicle” is defined to include “a motor vehicle, train, aircraft, or vessel”.
In trying to decide which definition should apply, it is logical to take the view that the definition used in the legislation that creates the offence should apply when the court considers whether it has the general power to disqualify offenders’ licences. On the other hand, it is also logical that, given that this general power applies to any offence (where a motor vehicle is involved) created under any piece of Queensland legislation, a single, general definition of “motor vehicle” should apply to this general power. To the best of my knowledge, there are no case-law authorities that have determined this matter one way or the other.
Nevertheless, in deciding whether to exercise this power at all, the court must be satisfied that disqualifying a convicted person’s licence is justified having regard to “the nature of the offence, or to the circumstances in which it was committed”. The higher courts have stated explicitly that disqualification from driving must not operate as a “a gratuitous addition to other available punishments. There should be apparent purpose in disqualification as such, rather than would, say, be served by a heavier fine or a longer prison term.” In addition, the offence itself must be “grounded in the act of driving and there will usually be detectable some abuse of the privilege of driving or of the opportunity taken to drive.”
The important phrase is “the abuse of the privilege of driving”. However, it is difficult to say, in broad terms, that a drink-driving offence committed on a Lime scooter demonstrates an abuse of the privilege of driving, given that a drivers licence is not required to use one. That is not to say that the specific circumstances of any particular case may not convince the court that such an abuse has occurred.
As Lime scooters become a fixed feature of our cities’ environment, the courts will see more people charged with drink-driving (and other offences) committed on these scooters.
If you find yourself charged with this offence, it is important to get good legal advice. Queensland’s transport law can be complex, and the court has wide powers to impose penalties that it believes fit the severity of the offence. You need someone to represent you who can put your case before the court forcefully, who can assist the court to navigate the intricacies of the legislation, and who can help you to get the best possible outcome.
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We cover all courts in South East Queensland from Southport to Gympie and out to Toowoomba. We have 5 offices in South East Queensland and we are also a expert traffic law firm and so we are in the South East Queensland courts every day helping people with charges like this.