Most drunk driving cases involve a person operating a motor vehicle while impaired. However, in many states, it is also against the law to ride a bicycle on a road or highway while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Drinking and cycling can be dangerous for riders and other drivers on the road. A drunk cyclist could veer into traffic, or crash on an uneven road surface. Many drunk cycling accidents happen at night when the cyclist is riding without a light.
Drunken cyclists may also be less likely to wear a bike helmet. The physical and mental effects of alcohol on bicyclists are similar to those on drivers. The effects of alcohol impairment on drunk bicyclists can include:
Laws regarding intoxicated bicyclists vary from state to state. In some states, drunk cycling is a misdemeanor, while other states treat it as an infraction, similar to a speeding ticket.
Some states have specific laws that apply to impaired cycling. In states without drunk bicycling laws, whether you can be charged for biking while intoxicated may depend on the state's impaired driving statutes. DUI laws in some states define a "motor vehicle" as including bicycles.
In states that include bicycles in the definition of a motor vehicle, the prosecution may be required to prove the defendant was:
Impairment can be shown through evidence that the cyclist was not able to operate the bike as safely as if they were not impaired. This evidence can include the police officer's testimony and arrest report, detailing unsafe cycling. The police may also use a breath test or field sobriety tests just like for drivers of cars.
Intoxication can also be demonstrated if the defendant's blood alcohol content (BAC) was at or over the limit. The legal BAC for most adult drivers is 0.08%. If you are arrested on suspicion of impaired cycling, the police may be able to request a breath or blood test to show your level of intoxication.
State laws vary widely, but the following examples may provide insight into the specific drunk biking laws of California, New York, and Colorado.
California has a separate statute to cover drunk biking. Intoxicated cyclists in California may be charged with cycling under the influence (CUI). The elements required for drunk biking in California include proving that you were riding a bicycle on a highway while under the influence of an alcoholic beverage, drug, or under the combined influence of alcohol and drugs.
"Highway" is defined as a road that is publicly maintained and open to the public for vehicular travel. The punishment for CUI is less severe than the punishment for DUI. The penalties for a CUI include a fine of up to $250.
Another difference between a CUI and DUI in California involves implied consent testing. Drivers arrested for drunk driving must submit to a chemical test under the state's implied consent laws. However, implied consent does not extend to cycling. Instead, cyclists may want to request a chemical test if they believe they are not impaired. The arresting officer will generally have to perform the chemical test if requested.
Under Colorado law, a DUI defines the term "vehicle" to include bicycles. This means a cyclist is "driving a vehicle." If you are substantially incapable of safely operating a bike, that means you may be charged with a criminal DUI in Colorado.
In Colorado, a person riding a bicycle with a BAC between 0.05% and 0.08% is presumed to be driving while ability impaired (DWAI). For a cyclist with a BAC of 0.08% or higher, the law presumes the person was driving under the influence. However, if a person is charged with biking under the influence, it will not result in points against a person's driving record as it would for a DUI.
In New York state, the law explicitly requires that a person must be operating a motor vehicle to be charged with drunk driving or driving while intoxicated (DWI). There is no separate statute covering drunk biking in New York. A cyclist who is impaired in New York cannot be charged with a drunk driving offense.
This does not mean there are no consequences for drunk cyclists in New York. Cyclists on public roads or sidewalks who are under the influence of drugs may be charged with public intoxication. If a cyclist is drunk, they may also be taken into "protective custody" until sobering up.
Depending on the laws of your state, you may be charged with a drunk driving offense for riding a bicycle while drunk. The penalties for conviction also depend on the jurisdiction and can include fines, alcohol or substance abuse counseling, or jail time.
If you are facing serious penalties for riding your bike after having a few drinks, criminal defense attorneys may be able to help. A criminal defense attorney with experience in defending impaired drivers may be able to help by challenging the admissibility of the prosecution's evidence, including blood alcohol test results. Your attorney may also be able to negotiate a plea bargain, to have the charges reduced or a suspended sentence.