An advertisement featuring a horse picking up his owner after a night of drinking at the bar has stirred up quite the conversation.
Much of the talk is not about if the “Sober Friend” ad is realistic, but rather if it is legal to ride home drunk on a horse.
So, is it?
According to Montana law, those on horseback cannot be arrested for driving under the influence. The state law states that in order to fit the criteria for a vehicle in a DUI, the device cannot be moved by “animal power.” So, being on horseback or driving a horse and carriage does not apply.
The same goes for bicycles and wheelchairs.
Montana’s law is very specific on the definition of a “vehicle,” stating in 61-1-101 (84)(a), MCA: “Vehicle” means a device in, upon, or by which any person or property may be transported or drawn upon a public highway, except devices moved by animal power or used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks.”
Montana’s DUI law (61-8-401, MCA) references this definition specifically.
Helena Police Chief Troy McGee said he has received many calls from residents asking about the advertisement, which is part of the Montana Department of Transportation’s Plan to Live campaign.
The campaign encourages those who are heading out to drink to plan ahead to find a safe way back home.
McGee added that it is legal to ride a horse within Helena city limits.
“We’ve never been called as far as I am aware of someone drinking and riding a horse,” he said.
McGee said he really wouldn’t be surprised if a similar scene played out in a smaller city such as Hamilton, where the 30-second spot was filmed.
If it were to happen in Helena, McGee said he’s not sure it would be reported.
“They probably wouldn’t call us and you’d just find the horse tied up outside the bar,” he said.
MDT Director Jim Lynch said the amount of attention the ad has gotten shows that the message is getting through. The department was looking for something that was not only entertaining but got the idea across to viewers, especially those 18 to 34 years old.
“They absorbed the message. They got it,” he said.
The idea is if people can plan where they’re going, who they’re going with and what they’re going to wear, they can just as easily figure out a safe way home prior to drinking.
Lynch added that the topic of getting a DUI on horseback was well researched prior to filming.
Luke Berger, deputy Helena city attorney, said he has not heard of anyone in Helena riding home from a bar on horseback. But, just because it may be legal, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.
“I wouldn’t recommend that anyone does that. But as the law says, you can ride your horse after drinking,” he said.
Reporter Angela Brandt: 447-4078