Following the tragic death of an eight-year-old boy who was struck by a snowmobile driven by an intoxicated driver, lawmakers have introduced a bill increasing penalties for drunk driving regardless of the vehicle which includes revoking driving privileges from all types of vehicles for individuals who are convicted of a DWI.
Back in January, young Alan Geisenkoetter Jr. suffered serious brain damage and, tragically, died after being struck on Chisago Lake by a snowmobile driven by Eric Coleman. Coleman was intoxicated at the time and had a history of drunk driving convictions and driver’s license revocations. At the time of the accident, Coleman’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was more than twice the legal limit of .08.
In addition to another DWI, Coleman now faces murder charges.
Closing a loophole
Essentially, this new bill seeks to close a current loophole in existing law and, thus, limit anyone with any drunk driving conviction from operating any type of motorized vehicles—including snowmobiles—for one year.
North Branch lawmakers Rep. Anne Neu and Sen. Mark Koran sponsored the new bill that goes into effect 1 August that expands the prohibition regarding operating off-road vehicles for those who have been convicted of a DWI while also eliminating an exemption permitting drivers to retain their licenses following an off-road vehicle DWI. This law—called “Little Alan’s Law”—seeks to honor Alan’s memory.
Previously, anyone who was convicted of a DWI on an off-road vehicle—including a snowmobile—was prohibited from operating a similar vehicle for one year.
The existing law also failed to take into account those convicted of a “regular” DWI. Currently, these individuals are only prohibited from driving a motor vehicle for a set period of time, but they are still able to get around on a snowmobile or other off-road vehicle.
The new law will prevent those who are convicted of any DWI from operating a car, ATV, snowmobile, or other off-road vehicle for a specified period of time. Additionally, with the new legislation, anyone convicted of DWI in any vehicle is prohibited from operating a motorboat during peak boating season between 1 May and 31 October.
Providing the impetus for the new legislation
According to Minnesota Public Radio (MPR), assessing stiffer penalties for a DWI in an automobile than for other motorized vehicles—like snowmobiles and ATV’s—which are operated off-road is crazy because there is ample risk for injury and death from these vehicles also.
With more than 20,000 miles of snowmobile trails in Minnesota, this is, indeed, a legitimate concern, especially in the winter when the trails are full of fun-seeking snowmobilers. In addition to the thrills associated with snowmobiling—as well as boating, ATV-ing, and other off-road recreational vehicles—it is imperative to be aware of the potential dangers. As such, common sense safety considerations—wearing helmets, not speeding, and obeying all laws—will reduce the risk for riders and others.
Similarly, operating any type of motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol should—and will now—carry similar legal and administrative sanctions. There should be no distinction between whether the vehicle is on the road, off-road, or on water.
Support for enhanced legislation
Minnesota law enforcement, the Department of Natural Resources, and the Minnesota United Snowmobile Association all support the new law by underscoring that off-road vehicles are heavy machinery which are capable of traveling at fast speeds with the potential to cause serious injuries and deaths.
Providing the impetus for the new law is the fact that the majority of off-road vehicle accidents involve drivers who are legally intoxicated or impaired by alcohol or drugs—or are engaging in reckless driving and otherwise negligent behavior and pose a legitimate safety threat to others.
DWI snowmobile penalties
A DWI conviction carries both criminal and administrative sanctions ranging from jail time to fines to probation. Criminally, pursuant to Minnesota Statute 169A.07, DWI penalties for DWI violations on off-road vehicles are the same as for a “regular” DWI.
In addition to jail, fines, possible probation, and the potential for mandatory alcohol education, there are several administrative sanctions as well, and these penalties are commonly levied along with criminal sanctions. Driver’s license suspension for a specified period of time, license plate impoundment, or even vehicle forfeiture are possible penalties for DWIs.
Of particular importance is that these potential penalties are also applicable to off-road vehicles or watercraft. The new legislation will simply treat all DWIs the same—regardless of vehicle—and require a minimum of one-year driver’s license suspension and prohibition from driving any motorized vehicle during that period.
The bottom line: regardless of whatever vehicle you are driving, just don’t drink and drive.