Saved by a Gator with a 455 Cubic-Inch Engine

drunk driving airboat

All the horsepower without the sharp teeth or drunk-driving convictions.

Things weren’t looking good for the defendant in State v. Stagno after getting pulled over by a state trooper. With a blood alcohol level of .197 and two DUI convictions in the past ten years, he almost certainly would’ve lost his driver’s license if he’d been driving his friends to the topless bar in his car.

But thanks to a drunken bet made earlier in the evening, the defendant’s mode of transportation on this wild night out was not a car at all—it was a “fifteen-foot 1985 Air Gator airboat, powered by a 455 cubic inch Buick engine.”

Because the applicable statute allowed judges to revoke driver’s licenses only when the vehicle driven required a license, the trial court had to settle for imposing a $1,000 fine, thirty days in jail, and alcohol rehabilitation counseling.

The Alaska Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s ruling, agreeing that a fifteen-foot airboat is not a motor vehicle requiring a driver’s license.

State v. Stagno, 739 P.2d 198 (Alaska Ct. App. 1987)

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Andrew Jay McClurg is a law professor whose teaching and research interests include tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy. He holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
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