Horsesense and non-sense

By Keith Leonard, Esquire

There are probably very few people who can remember a time when motor vehicles did not dominate the roads. However, for those who live in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and elsewhere around the United States where large populations of Amish live, a driver must still be very mindful of horse-drawn buggies on the roads.

However, can an intoxicated person riding a horse on a public road be charged with driving under the influence of alcohol? A few years ago, the Pennsylvania State Police thought so when they arrested some men in that exact situation, but the courts of that Commonwealth ruled otherwise and did not convict the riders of the charges.
In the case of Commonwealth v. Noel, 579 Pa. 546 (2004), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of such charges against two men who were riding horses on a public road and who appeared to be intoxicated. The general rule in Pennsylvania is that a person riding an animal or driving an animal-drawn vehicle upon a roadway is to be granted all of the rights—and is subject to all of the same duties— that are applicable to the driver of a vehicle, except where inapplicable by their very nature. In the Noel case, the Court agreed with the trial court that those provisions in the motor vehicle code were unconstitutionally vague when it came to horseback riding while drunk.

The defendants had argued that Pennsylvania’s DUI statute only applied to the operation of a vehicle, and that a horse was not a vehicle. You may think that should have been an obvious conclusion as a horse does not have an engine. However, the relevant law defined a “vehicle” as any “device, in, upon or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway….” There is no mention of an engine in that definition. Not surprisingly, the laws of other states concerning the riding of horses on their roadways are substantially similar to the “general rule” in Pennsylvania.

When first invented, automobiles were not immediately embraced by everybody. About a century ago there were organizations such as the Farmer’s Anti-Automobile Society. That Society adopted their own rules of the road for drivers of motor vehicles. One of those rules was that automobiles running on the country roads at night must send up a red rocket every mile and wait ten minutes for the road to clear. After doing so, the driver must then still proceed carefully, blowing the horn and shooting Roman candles.

In a prior column I mentioned that according to the New Jersey Driver’s Manual, a driver is supposed to honk the horn to signal every time while passing another vehicle. While I have certainly heard a lot of cars honking their horns in New Jersey (and elsewhere), I am fairly confident that many of them were not signalling to pass.
The rules of the road can also seem, in the first instance, to be somewhat inconsistent. For example, it is unlawful to hunt any wild animals from your motor vehicle in Tennessee, but perfectly legal to consume road kill in that state. Hunting from a moving vehicle is also illegal in Connecticut.

There are plenty of other laws that were, or still are, on the books in different places that seem at least odd, unnecessary or difficult to enforce. At one time, you were not allowed to sleep on any road in Eureka, California. Unfortunately, in December 2009, a man sleeping in the middle of a road there was run over by a car instead of simply being arrested. Apparently the authorities in Reno, Nevada have determined that it should be illegal to park a bench or a chair in the road.

In Dublin, Georgia, you may not drive a motor vehicle through a public park or playground, unless you have first obtained the written permission of its director of Parks and Recreation. In Dunn, North Carolina, it is illegal to repair your vehicle at night, and you may also be in trouble for playing in the streets of that town.
While it is likely to be the case in other parts of the country as well, be careful while passing through Oregon. Its motor vehicle code makes it illegal for a driver to leave any car door open for too long. I wonder if police officers in Oregon carry stop watches with them in addition to their radar guns to enforce that law.

We should all feel a lot safer when driving through Alabama – it is against the law there to drive while blindfolded. And, as in Oregon, it is also illegal in Alabama for a driver to leave any car doors open for too long. Over in Texas, it is illegal in Texarkana to ride a horse at night without tail lights. Unfortunately, I was unable to find any business that sells tail lights for horses.

Aggressive driving is of course a dangerous activity, and any driver passing through Rockville, Maryland may find even greater trouble for using profanity. It is a misdemeanor to use such language on or near any of the streets in Rockville.

But, by no means are unusual driving laws only in force in America. In Japan you can be fined for splashing mud on pedestrians while driving. And just last year a woman was arrested in Saudi Arabia for simply driving a car. That country bans women from driving on its public roads.

Is anyone up for a road trip? I call shotgun.

Remember that laws are constantly changing and are often not uniform throughout the United States. Do not place unqualified reliance on the information in this article. Always contact legal counsel for detailed advice.
If you have a particular issue, law or problem you would like to see addressed in a future column, please contact me at, or Leonard, Sciolla, Hutchison, Leonard & Tinari, LLP, 215-567-1530.

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1 Response to Horsesense and non-sense

  1. Allison says:

    It’s always neat to see how the laws vary worldwide, you never know what to expect.

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