A horse is a vehicle, in Kentucky, if you're drunk

Kentucky cops will write you a DUI if you ride a horse drunk. The fellow whose circumstances proved this to the rest of us was carrying a jar of "moonshine" at the time. Lowering the Bar has some legal analysis of the bust. Good thing the horse was sober when he got pulled over, or there would have been an additional count of cruelty to animals.

And things are not looking good for him otherwise. The statutory language is better than the title: "No person under the influence of intoxicating beverages or any substance which may impair one's driving ability shall operate a vehicle that is not a motor vehicle anywhere in this state." Okay, but what is a "vehicle not a motor vehicle"? I think a skateboard or scooter would qualify, or even a Big Wheel. The Flintstones car would count. Surely someone in Kentucky has one of those. But can a living thing be a "vehicle"? Yes, people ride around on them, but to me the common meaning of "vehicle" just doesn't include a horse (elephant, lion, Sasquatch, whatever). A vehicle is a machine.

There is some support for this elsewhere in the statutes. The one above refers to "driving" ability. "Driving" is not the same as "riding" when it comes to animals, according to television. You would "ride" a horse during a cattle "drive," for example; you don't "drive" a horse. And look over here at Section 189.310, "Vehicles meeting other vehicles and animals," which not only distinguishes between "vehicles" and "animals" but also makes the riding/driving distinction. That seems unnecessary if every animal you could ride is also a vehicle, doesn't it?

All very interesting, said no one, but aren't there often statutes that define certain legal terms? Yes, and there's one here. And sadly for Rooster Cogburn, it defines "vehicle" as including "All agencies for the transportation of persons or property over or upon the public highways of the Commonwealth.…" So while I still like my "animal is not a vehicle" argument, Kentucky has precluded it.

Don't Ride Drunk in Kentucky

(Image: Defeat the devil drink - white horse, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from lydiashiningbrightly's photostream)


  1. In my hometown, the police will stop you for a traffic violation while you are riding a bike and then proceed to search you.  DUI on a bicycle in Oregon is QUITE common, even though you don’t need an operator’s license or registration to ride the bike.  What gets me is that they use a traffic violation of any sort as probable cause for the search.  If any of you happen to be on any stretch of HWY 395 in Oregon with out-of-state plates, watch your P’s & Q’s and make sure you are COMPLETELY legal, because you are getting stopped and searched, no matter what. Refusing a consent search is probable cause to get the drug dog up there to do what it is trained to do: sit down at the rear bumper of your car. The dog does as it was trained to do, regardless of what is there or not there, and that gives the cops permission to sort through your vehicle. Yes, they actually train dogs to give them permission to walk all over you. Imagine that. The dog’s judgment is taken as wholly valid, when dogs are easily trained to do whatever you want them to, including “alerting” on a car that is completely clean in order to give the cops a reason. Fun fun fun in a fluffy chair.

    1. I was stopped for riding my bike home from work (like you, I live in Oregon) about 8 years ago. When I asked why I was stopped they said “a traffic violation” but wouldn’t say exactly what I’d done. It was 1am, I had proper lights and reflectors, and this was a VERY small town (literally one stoplight) so there wasn’t any traffic on the road. They asked to search my backpack and I declined. They took my I.D. and then kept me standing there for 25 minutes (after my 9 hour work shift) standing on the side of the road in the rain. Eventually they let me go but told me I had to walk my bike home because it wasn’t legal to ride it at night for some vague reason (again, I had my reflectors and light.) I walked the two blocks until I crossed the city line and then got on my bike and rode the rest of the way home while they watched. I was VERY displeased.

      1.  Depending on what the local alcohol licensing laws are like, they may be assuming that you just came from a bar and that you’re riding a bike because you lost your license for DUI. Cops on the graveyard shift are tasked with making DUI busts (which are profitable for the local justice system, due to the large amounts of fines involved), and they’re looking for any excuse to stop you to check for sobriety. (The making you wait part is just their being dicks.)

    2. The difference being of course that riding a bicycle drunk is potentially dangerous.  I would like to assume that just because a rider is drunk the horse is unlikely to be swerving around the around or have trouble stopping in time.

      1.  You don’t think that being in control of a thousand-pound animal that’s trained to do what its rider wants can be dangerous if the rider is drunk? Dude.

        1. Can be, sure, but far less dangerous than an actual vehicle of which someone is directly controlling with their drunkenness.

          Horses don’t like crashing into things and don’t tend to lose control of themselves just because their riders reaction times are a little hampered.

          1. You might not crash into anything on a horse (or more properly, the horse won’t crash into anything), but you might decide it’s a great idea to ride the wrong way up a road (and most horses don’t have lights).
            In the UK you’re generally in trouble if you’re drunk, and could be a danger to others, which can include loosing your (car) driving license, for being drunk in charge of a bike.

          2. I have no issue with the whole bike thing – as it’s about the danger you could cause others indirectly (causing traffic to swerve, endangering others etc.), rather than your ability to mow people down – I guess technically the same could be said about a horse.

            It just feels wrong somehow. As someone else says somewhere else in this thread, if I were riding on your back, and I were drunk, would I be fined for dangerous driving? I’d be driving you as much as I’d be driving a horse. What if the horse is drunk and I’m not? That’s more dangerous, but what are you gonna do, fine the horse? Maybe I shouldn’t walk my dog drunk under the same grounds? Is it OK if you’re walking the horse, and not on its back? It’s just such a minefield – which bikes/cars etc. aren’t, because it’s a lot more black and white.

            Interesting topic though – would make for a good real-life debate over a beer (followed by some horse riding).

          3. You’re much safer riding a horse against traffic than with traffic, just as you are walking against traffic.  The fact that the horse doesn’t have lights isn’t relevant here (it’s important, but the driver’s not going to care much which end of the horse he sees) – it’s whether you and the horse can see the cars.

  2. Does a horse carry a person or cargo? If so, it’s being used as a vehicle. End of discussion. (Unless there’s a specific legal definition of “vehicle” which deviates from the word’s etymology.)

    1. So if you’re too drunk to walk and a friend is carrying you home, they’re a vehicle and you’re committing DUI?

  3. I’ve heard tell of animals that will go home on command.  What if you had your horse pull a wagon to the tavern while you rode him, got shitfaced, hopped in the wagon, and yelled “home!”  Would it be a DUI if the horse, who knew what it was doing was pulling you home, while you were passed out in the back of the wagon?

    What I mean is:
    If you can cede control to the animal, is it driving at all?

    1. I would argue that that would be even less defensible as the wagon more closely fits with the common definition of a vehicle. The horse is still a possible grey area.

      1. eh, sometimes there really may not be a loophole.  This kind of thing is why I can’t wait till the fully autonomous vehicles are standard.  There’s always gonna be people who insist on driving drunk, and autonomous cars can give them the choice of going home without endangering other people’s lives.  It won’t always work.  Some people will still choose to drive drunk, instead of enjoying their buzz while the car safely drives them home. But the overall effect is going to be positive.

        1. Personally I expect that sitting behind the wheel of a self driving car while inebriated will be illegal. The driver is capable of overriding the self driving mechanism and is expected to do so in case of emergency or malfunction. I wouldn’t trust a drunk driver to not take over when inappropriate or to react appropriately / swiftly when needed.

          At least with a horse the animal has strong innate self preservation characteristics that don’t rely on a human as emergency backup. They also aren’t generally capable of running over a pedestrian at 65 MPH in a school zone even when malfunctioning.

          1.  Err no they do 30mph and can seriously hurt people if they are upset. Having a drunk idiot on the back may cause such an effect.

            I’d argue that if you are too drunk to drive you have no place on the back of a horse, especially on a public road.l

          2. The earliest examples, that will be the case. Eventually as it evolves, driverless cars will be the transit situation. They will be more or less generic boxes. Your “car”, a rental, a taxi, mass transit cubicle, delivery vehicle. Even something like UPS will change, with the vehicle being smaller and just a collection of maybe 20 lockers. Dispatched more frequently to the closest 20 destinations near you and all by appointment. Use your smartphone to unlock.

    2.  Interesting question.  I was first inclined to say you aren’t driving a horse if you aren’t in control.  i.e. laying across the horse, reins nowhere near you.

      But if you pass out in a moving car, it would be a pretty clear violation.

      So at what point does abdicating control of a large moving mass get you in trouble?  In Nevada, a car is allowed to drive itself, but still requires supervision.  I don’t think the supervisor is allowed to be drunk.  But a horse is smarter than a car.

      More food for thought.

    3. This used to be a time-honored protocol. People could get falling down drunk, get into their wagon (or more precariously, on their horse) and the horse knew enough to take them home. It was only a problem if you fell off the wagon–hence the saying.

  4. Seems to me, if you can use it to run down a small child, it’s a vehicle, and you shouldn’t be driving it while drunk. Or my personal rule: If you’re driving on the same sidewalk my family uses, you’d better be sober.

    1. I could run down a small child. What if I’m sober and give a drunk friend a piggyback ride home? Are they driving me? What if they try to operate me by leaning left and right or pulling my ears left and right to indicate direction?

      1.  Then you’ll just get done for being drunk and disorderly, and if you do knock into someone, perhaps some kind of assault.

    2. >Seems to me, if you can use it to run down a small child, it’s a vehicle
      So legs are vehicles now? I hope you’re aware how easy it is to run down a small child, frack my miniature poodle can run down small children.

  5. its a fucking horse, they practically drive themselves, if you fall asleep on a horse it will still get where it wants to go. a horse won’t run over a child unless the child runs out into the road while the horse is at full gallop and it might just jump over the kid. horses: kinda dont like to hit things. a horse wont run itself off a cliff, a horse wont crash into a house, a horse wont run into someone, you can be completely shitfaced and doing nothing to steer the horse and it’s no more dangerous than if you were to let it roam around on its own.
    now a horse might:
    run a red light
    walk out into traffic
    get hit by a car

    the same things it might do if you were to let it roam about on its own.

    a really drunk person might:
    make the horse weave in and out of traffic
    run a red light
    make the horse jump onto someones car

    but i think those can all be taken care of by themselves, the damage you can do drunk on a horse is so limited this is just fucking stupid.

    1. You are kind of going over the top there, but a good horse knows how to get you home even if you aren’t driving.

    2.  The bottom line is: you’re responsible for the horse, it isn’t responsible for you. Modern towns and cities and even country roads aren’t set up for horses to roam around in without being under control of someone who knows what they’re doing.

    3. You have no clue how much damage a horse can do, do you?

      I guess this really *is* your first time at the rodeo.

  6. Over here in the 49th state, police recently arrested a drunk guy floating down our local river on an inflatable raft: http://newsminer.com/bookmark/19659421-Juneau-man-gets-DUI-on-raft-in-Chena-River .

    1.  that’s just nanny-ism, in my opinion.  There are no “lanes” in a river (Yes you should keep to the right if there’s heavy boat traffic).  An inflatible raft will do less damage on a river than a skateboarder on the sidewalk.

      I can understand the police citing him for disorderly conduct if his raft bumps into something, or public intoxication, since the river itself is public land. An inflatable raft honestly can’t do much significant damage, most likely just some scratches on the finish of somebody’s wood paneled speedboat.  Swerving to avoid a collision on the water isn’t likely to cause an accident, and anyone swimming in the river where the current is fast enough that they’d be hurt if a raft bumps them is just stupid.  You shouldn’t swim at all where the current is fast enough to accelerate a raft to ramming speed.

      I also just read the statute quoted in your link, It seems too broad.  By its language, a vessel might be a pair of water-wings, an inner-tube, a pair of swimming flippers or your swim-trunks when they trap a fart.

    1. Way south in Victoria I have cycled past many booze buses and I have never once been asked to blow into the little machine. Apparently bike riders don’t have to obey .05 which is why pubs in Brunswick have the best bike parking of any retail establishment anywhere.

  7. Conversely, you wouldn’t believe the number of times I’ve seen people here put a fresh case of beer in their truck bed, crack one open and take it to the driver’s seat with them…

    1. Many years ago I worked in the Pilbara in Western Australia (mining country). Old timers measured distances by cans of beer. E.g., Karratha to Port Headland (250km) was a six-can trip. I can’t speak for what that would be on a horse…

      1.  I think author and US desert-dweller Edward Abbey did that, too, IIRC.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Abbey

        your post reminds me of what a guy said a few days ago on another forum.  his uncle tells a story of riding his harley through the Nullarbor plain, which has like 95 continuous miles of flat, straight road.  once he hit that straight, he took his hands off his handlebar, rolled a cigarette, and didn’t put his hands back on the bar until he’d smoked the whole thing.
        I wonder how many cigarettes to ride the whole desert?

      2. Holy. Crap.

        So they downed 6 beers in the course of 2 or so hours…. while driving? TBH I’ve drunk beer plenty of times while on long drives but never enough to exceed the legal limit.

        In the snow we do the slightly less dangerous thing of measuring the length of chairlifts in terms of cigarettes. We wouldn’t actually smoke 2.5 cigs a chairlift, but chairlifts are long enough that you lose sense of how long you’ve been on there pretty easily.

  8. It’s dependent on local authority, of course–most places here you can’t even be in public while annoyingly intoxicated–but here in the neighboring state of Illinois, the same thing has happened.  Heck, a quick Google search turned up a public intoxication/animal cruelty arrest in Gilroy, IL, which is in Lake County.

    On my end of the state, you can get a DUI on just about anything that can get you from point A to point B.  There are people who get their licenses revoked, only to be caught driving drunk on their lawnmower, or trying to keep upright on a bicycle.  I do know of an apocryphal story of a guy who used to go into town with a horse hitched to a wagon who would get drunk in town, get back on the wagon, and the horse would pull the wagon back home while he slept it off.

  9. Even though “a horse drives itself”, I’m not sure it would by itself observe traffic lights, right of way, drive on the right, the list goes on. It would basically be just a domestic animal on the road, which is actually a traffic hazard.

  10. Speaking of vehicles, driving, and riding, here’s something that gives me the shits:

    Driving a car and, and riding a bike.

    Pig’s arse.

    You ride a car, and drive a bike.

    Let’s not gloss over where the power is coming from… particularly these days, eh?

    1. Dude… really?

      If you’re “riding” a car in the driver’s seat then don’t expect to be riding for very long.

      1. ‘Riding’ a bike supposedly means controlling it (in addition to powering it, despite the backwards connotation).

        Why would the term fail when it comes to cars, particularly since it isn’t being lumped with extra meaning it doesn’t deserve? It has an easier job relating to piloting a car. Rides don’t have to be passive; you tell a horse where to go for instance. And if you’re happy to apply the term to a bike, what am I not doing on the bike I’m doing in a car?

        Cyclists drive, motorists ride and that’s an end of it. Every fucker plainly has it back to front except me.

  11. In US  if you drunk.You will not be allowed to drive.They have devices measure the alcohol content.You will be fined if they violate

  12. 4 things:

    1) This is normal legal practice in many places.

    2) In a way it’s good because I can’t imagine a drunk guy would ride a horse in a way that is good for the horse or safe for the public.

    3) This sucks because of those old timey tales (as mentioned by others) of people being able to get drunk to their hearts’ content due to the fact that all they had to do to get home was get on Mr. Ed and pass out.

    4) In Australia the cops can write you a ticket for riding a bicycle while drunk (typical ambiguous charge like “public nuisance”), but they cannot charge you for “drink driving” resulting in loss of drivers licence. You’d have to be riding at night with no lights or doing something really stupid for them to even bother stopping you.

  13. The driving vs riding test fails easily – motorcycles are also ridden, rarely driven.   Driving vs Riding is irrelevant.

    A better argument is that the horse, being an intelligent creature, was actually in control.   He was just giving directions, which the horse is free to ignore.   Try to get a horse to do something that’s obviously unsafe (walk off a cliff, for example), and most won’t do it.  Drunk people are also free to give taxi drivers directions, too.

  14. I can understand why the original law might not have been drafted well enough to define whether a horse is included under their definition of a vehicle. The majority decision here seems to be that it would be potentially dangerous to ride a horse drunk, and so including a horse in the set of ‘vehicles’ seems to fit the spirit of the law. Similarly, an automatic vehicle that can take a drink person home but not let them try to drive would fit. But the original law doesn’t actually say that.

    The bit I don’t get is why it is considered intelligent and right to then trawl through all the other laws to try and find another definition of ‘vehicle’ that you can enforce even if it is no more fit for purpose than the old one. Dismiss the single case and fix the law if you have to. Or allow a ruling based on case law, as we do in the UK. But this is weird.

    “All agencies for the transportation of persons or property over or upon the public highways of the Commonwealth.…” Does that include shoes? Can you wear shoes in Kentucky when drunk? Aha! Are rollerskates shoes? How about crossing a highway wearing one sock?

    1. I like your thinking, but there’s no way it can be claimed that the shoes or the rollerblades (what, no love for the 90s?) are the agent of transportation. In your example the agent of transportation is ‘legs’. The shoes/rollerblades just assist the legs in being able to travel further in a shorter time. 

      1. By that logic, if you were riding a bicycle, then the agent of transportation would be ‘legs’ too. Or can you be arrested for being drunk in charge of your own legs?

    1.  Might be OK under criminal law (and I know there are plenty of places where it isn’t) but you’d be leaving yourself so wide open under civil law if you hurt someone that it’ll sober you up to think about it.

      I do believe a lot of jurisdictions rather strongly regulate the carrying of firearms in public, sober or drunk, so this is a bit of a straw man argument anyway.

  15. Wow, there sure are a lot of people in this thread who should never, ever be allowed to own or ride a horse. 

  16. I ride a unicycle (I think it is called a ‘monocycle’ in Europe), and this story reminds me of cases where unicyclists have been able to successfully protest tickets. (In particular, tickets for riding unicycles in places where bicycles are banned.) The statutes define bicycles as having two wheels, and sometimes are written to include pedal-powered conveyances with more wheels, but rarely fewer.

  17. Cory, while I normally love your posts as they bring about very real situations where people of law enforcement and other groups/individuals in charge with keeping the rest of the citizens safe, this post has me troubled.

    While riding a horse is not exactly the same as driving a car, there are MANY things that you need to pay attention to that are not an issue in/on a car. In some ways, it is closer to riding a motorcycle–but in others, naturally, it is very different. In some ways, it is vastly more dangerous to ride a horse than a car–and others it is safer. But that isn’t my issue…

    Operating anything impaired is a BAD idea. Period. Full stop. Be it car, bike, horse, goat, or even just your shoes on pavement–it is a BAD idea. I don’t think the officers in this situation did anything more wrong than pulling over a guy who was stumbling on the sidewalk, or who was weaving a bicycle.

    What is worse: A guy walking out into traffic, a bicycle riding out into traffic, a guy on a horse trotting out into traffic, or a car going through the intersection on a red light?

    A guy walking hurts the guy, the people driving the car that strikes him.
    A guy on a bike hurts the guy, destroys the bike and sends it flying further into traffic, the people driving the car that strikes him.
    A guy on a horse hurts the guy, the horse which causes more damage to the car, the people in the car are at a greater risk of getting injured, and then the traffic around the accident.
    A car is the guy in the car, the cars involved, and the other drivers, and then more likely other pedestrians and/or other drivers as the cars come to a final rest.

    Driving/operating things while impaired is a BAD idea. Adding other modes of transportation — be they mechanical or organic–only makes the situation worse.

    1. I agree that it could be dangerous, but I think “shoes on pavement” should be allowed when you’re drunk. It will be a sad day when you can’t walk out of a bar drunk to hail a taxi, or walk home if you live just down the street. ;)

      1. You can be arrested for public intox now if you’re so drunk that you’re visibly being a nuisance or having difficulties walking around etc.  Of course it varies by state in the U.S.  Generally it seems that you have to be being pretty obnoxious or incapacitated to get hassled.  Some states don’t have any restrictions at all.

      2. I agree that it could be dangerous, but I think “shoes on pavement” should be allowed when you’re drunk.

        But Cotton Mather disagrees, and that is ultimately what counts.

  18. Guys. I get that it’s fun to play devil’s advocate on the internet. I get that calling a horse a vehicle may offend one’s inner legislator. And I certainly don’t begrudge this guy’s lawyer the chance to use whatever tricksy legal devices that might get him off the hook.

    But yes, absolutely, beyond any semblance of a doubt, it is very, very dangerous to ride a horse over vehicle-traveled roads while you are drunk. Dangerous for you, dangerous for the horse, and dangerous for any vehicles that might hit you (or swerve to avoid hitting you).

    Hell, it’s a fairly chancy proposition to ride sober on most public roads. You have to have your head on a swivel, you have to deal with the reactions of cars driven by people who weren’t expecting horses, and you have to be ready for the possibility that your horse, which has ignored the last 10,000 cars that went zipping by its ear, may spook at this next one.

    The fact that the horse has a brain will NOT save you. Horses don’t know left-side from right-side. Horses don’t know what the yellow and white lines mean. Very well-trained horses, which are the only kind you should ever have on the road in the first place, respond to subtle muscular cues from the rider’s legs. Think you can’t weave all over the road on a horse? You can and you will if you’re drunk.

  19. “Driving” a horse is possible, but I think that usually means controlling the horse from a vehicle behind it, as in “She’ll be driving six white horses when she comes.”

  20. ” but to me the common meaning of “vehicle””

    …. is irrelevant.  The legal definition of a vehicle is all that matters here.  That’s why many things *have* a legal definition, so there is less confusion and subjectivity about rather critical matters.

    A professional writer should know that the precise meaning of words is very important and the “Humpty Dumpty” school of definitions won’t hack it on a personal level. (“..a word means precisely what I choose it to mean…”

    “Freedom” is not the same as “liberty” despite their being used almost interchangeably and “well-regulated” as in the Second Amendment does not mean what most people think it means.

  21. Not sure if anyone has mentioned this – I did a quick query of the comments and didn’t see anything..

    But the United States has had a president arrested for drunk driving a horse.. President Ulysses S Grant (yeah it was almost 150 years ago, but still)

  22. Scotland has the same laws, you can be drunk in charge of a horse, bicycle or even child and be prosecuted.  We also have really good one “disturbing the leagues” which is basically forcing someone to alter course on the pavement, great for use against the Krishna Temple etc.

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