A Horse Is a Horse, of Course. But Is It Also a Vehicle?

Horses are vehicles, according to our state court of appeals. In State v. Dellinger, 73 N.C. App. 685 (1985), the court upheld the defendant’s conviction for impaired driving based upon his riding of a horse on a street with an alcohol concentration of 0.18. The court reasoned:  G.S. 20-171 renders traffic laws applicable to persons riding an animal or driving an animal pulling a vehicle on a highway.  The legislature defined the term vehicle in broad terms in G.S. 20-4.01(49). This broad definition reflects the legislature’s intent that horses are vehicles within the meaning of G.S. 20-138.1, the statute prohibiting impaired driving.

Whatever the view of the legislature pre-Dellinger, that august body acted a few years later to express its then-current determination that a person should not be convicted of impaired driving for riding a horse (or a bicycle or lawnmower) while impaired. S.L. 1989 c. 711 enacted G.S. 20-138.1(e) excepting the aforementioned conveyances from the definition of “vehicle” as that term is used in the DWI statute). In 2006, the legislature removed the bicycle and lawnmower exceptions, leaving horses among the few modes of transport–other than feet–upon which an impaired person may propel herself down a street without committing the offense of DWI. S.L. 2006-253.

Notably, the legislature did not amend the definition of vehicle to exclude horses, nor did it repeal G.S. 20-171. Since horses (and presumably other animals) remain vehicles for other purposes, a person apparently could commit the offense of reckless driving on a horse, and, perhaps under the influence of a hearty dose of oats, could ride a horse at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent for conditions.

It is unclear whether a person could commit the offense of DWI astride an animal other than a horse. With apologies to Dr. Seuss, I’ll ask you readers, rather than Sam:  Would you, could you, on a cow? What about a goat?  How about now?

1 thought on “A Horse Is a Horse, of Course. But Is It Also a Vehicle?”

  1. § 20‑138.1. Impaired driving.

    (e) Exception. – Notwithstanding the definition of “vehicle” pursuant to G.S. 20‑4.01(49), for purposes of this section the word “vehicle” does not include a horse. (1983, c. 435, s. 24; 1989, c. 711, s. 2; 1993, c. 285, s. 1; 2006‑253, s. 9.)

    Guess someone needs a new lawyer…..

    § 20‑4.01. Definitions.
    Unless the context requires otherwise, the following definitions apply throughout this Chapter to the defined words and phrases and their cognates:

    49) Vehicle. – Every device in, upon, or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway, excepting devices moved by human power or used exclusively upon fixed rails or tracks; provided, that for the purposes of this Chapter bicycles shall be deemed vehicles and every rider of a bicycle upon a highway shall be subject to the provisions of this Chapter applicable to the driver of a vehicle except those which by their nature can have no application. This term shall not include a device which is designed for and intended to be used as a means of transportation for a person with a mobility impairment, or who uses the device for mobility enhancement, is suitable for use both inside and outside a building, including on sidewalks, and is limited by design to 15 miles per hour when the device is being operated by a person with a mobility impairment, or who uses the device for mobility enhancement. This term shall not include an electric personal assistive mobility device as defined in G.S. 20‑4.01(7a).

    So a horse and a man….not guilty…A horse pulling a man in a buggy…guilty…


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