Driving under the influence (DUI) laws have evolved tremendously in recent years. This change isn't surprising, as intoxicated driving is a significant problem in the United States. The National Traffic Safety Administration estimates 1.5 million DUI arrests yearly. How you might get a DUI charge has also changed. Most DUIs involve vehicles like automobiles, trucks, and SUVs. Many states have expanded their DUI and vehicle codes to include many other types of moving motorized and unmotorized devices. It is possible to get charged with a DUI on a bike.
Each state treats drunk biking differently. Check the laws in your state for the most up-to-date information.
Bicycles and DUI Laws
Riding a bicycle holds a unique set of legal issues. They are usually not powered by a motor but by human force. However, many states have held that biking laws fall under the same category as operating an automobile. Cyclists must adhere to the same rules of the road as motorists.
While bicycles may not pose the same threat as motor vehicles, intoxicated or drunk biking can have serious consequences. You risk causing property damage and harm to yourself and others. Riding your bicycle after you have been drinking or have consumed intoxicants is dangerous.
Every state prohibits driving while intoxicated (DWI). Laws vary by state, but there are common essential elements. Driving is illegal when your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) exceeds the state's legal limit. Most states have this set at 0.08%, but Utah recently lowered their limit to 0.05%. This legal limit is the state's per se intoxication level. If you are at or above this BAC, the state does not need to prove your intoxication further.
When a police officer suspects you are driving under the influence or driving while intoxicated, they will ask you to perform field sobriety tests and take chemical tests. This process is no different if you are riding a bicycle.
Chemical tests may include a breathalyzer or breath test, blood test, or urine analysis. When your BAC is over the legal limit or intoxicants are in your system, the police officer will arrest you on a DUI charge. Law enforcement can still arrest you when you are below the legal limit if there is other evidence of your impairment.
Most first-time DUI offenses are misdemeanors, whether on a bike, in a car, or riding a scooter or motorcycle.
Vehicle or Motor Vehicle?
In a case involving bicycling under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you should first look at your state DUI laws. Whether you may face arrest for a DUI offense while biking depends on how your state defines a vehicle or motor vehicle.
Generally, when a state law on drugged or drunk driving specifically prohibits the operation of a "motor vehicle," state courts will likely say the law does not apply to bicycles. For example, New York does not charge for intoxicated biking, as the device must have a motor to fall under the state's DUI laws. These states may, however, recognize other devices, such as:
- Scooters or mopeds
- Riding lawnmowers
- Golf carts
- Motorized wheelchairs
Where statutes apply more generally to all vehicles, courts sometimes find that bicycles fall into this category. These states will charge bikers with a DUI offense. It will follow the same legal process as motor vehicle DUIs. Many of these states have included biking-specific penalties in their DUI laws. Other states, like California, have laws specific to cycling under the influence.
Some states, like Washington and Texas, do include bicycles under the vehicle definition. But they consider the crimes of biking under the influence and a motor vehicle DUI as very different. They do not allow biking under the influence charges.
While you may not be subject to a DUI case while riding a bicycle, you may face other charges. Public intoxication is still a crime in most areas. Law enforcement can also cite you for reckless endangerment or disorderly conduct.
These crimes are often misdemeanors and can carry heavy penalties. You may face huge fines, probation, and substance abuse education and treatment.
Consequences are serious if your state charges for biking under the influence in the same way as a DUI in an automobile. Often, even a first-time offender risks jail time. You will likely need to complete community service hours. Fines and legal fees can cost thousands of dollars.
As with a traditional DUI, you may also have your driver's license suspended. Courts can order you to install an ignition interlock device on your car or truck, even if you were not driving one when arrested.
Facing a Bicycle DUI Charge? Talk to a Lawyer
Since bicyclists share public roadways with automobiles, they are subject to the same traffic laws. You can face a DUI or another charge if you decide to ride your bike while under the influence. Get legal advice about your intoxicated or drunk biking charge today. Speak to a skilled DUI defense attorney in your area.