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While most drunk driving cases involve a person operating a motor vehicle, in many states, it's just as against the law to ride a bicycle on a road or highway while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Drinking and cycling can cause serious harm, including to property, the bicyclist, and other people. Individuals who are riding bicycles while intoxicated can suffer the same detrimental effects as those who drink and drive. Their reaction time is likely to be slower, they pay less attention and they're generally more dangerous on the road.
The legality of drunk biking depends on where it happens. Laws vary widely from state to state, but many state bicycle DUI laws are alike in at least some respects.
Whether or not you can be charged for biking while intoxicated often depends on the phrasing of the statute on that state's lawbooks. If a statute uses the term “motor vehicle,” for example, it may still remain unclear whether the definition of “motor vehicle” includes bicycles. Some statutes may explicitly state that a bicycle counts. However, if it is not explicitly expressed, a jurisdiction is not as likely to consider a bicycle or other man-powered transportation device, like a skateboard or scooter, under that definition.
Where the law defines the term to include bicycles or where a separate statute makes drinking and cycling illegal, most states apply similar penalties to both drunk driving and drunk biking.
Any person charged with drinking and cycling should first examine the laws of the state in which the charge was brought. To secure a conviction for drunk biking, the prosecution will, in most cases, be required to prove:
In many jurisdictions, the defendant has the right to request a chemical blood, breath or urine test to determine the level of alcohol or drugs in his or her system. Once the test has been requested, law enforcement must see that it is conducted. The results of any such test may be introduced at trial to establish the presence of intoxicants in the defendant's system. State laws vary widely, but the following examples may provide insight into the specific drunk biking laws of California, New York and Colorado.
California treats bicyclists the same as other drivers in many respects, but it has a separate statute to cover drunk biking. Intoxicated cyclists in California may be charged with CUI, or cycling under the influence, pursuant to California Vehicle Code section 21200.5.
The elements required for drunk biking in California include that the person charged was:
“Highway” is defined for purposes of the section to cover a way or place publicly maintained and open to the public for vehicular travel.
The punishment for CUI is less severe than the punishment for DUI, perhaps reflecting a societal belief that bicycles are inherently less dangerous than motor vehicles. Those convicted of CUI will generally face a fine of up to $250.
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, so people who drink and bike there cannot be charged with a drunk driving offense.
Drunk cyclists in New York may, however, open themselves up to other charges, such as public intoxication. A criminal defense lawyer may be able to help individuals charged with crimes in New York.
State law in Colorado defines driving under the influence (DUI) as requiring the operation of a motor vehicle or a vehicle. The DUI law is found in Colorado Revised Statutes section 42-4-1301, and at C.R.S. 42-4-102(112) the term “vehicle” is defined to include bicycles.
In Colorado, therefore, a person riding a bicycle with a blood alcohol concentration between 0.05 percent and 0.08 percent is presumed to be driving while ability impaired (DWAI). For a person riding a bicycle with a BAC over 0.08 percent, the law presumes the person was driving under the influence. If a person is charged with biking under the influence, however, it will not result in points against a person's driving record as it would for a DUI.
Depending on the laws of the relevant jurisdiction, a person may be charged with a drunk driving offense for riding a bicycle while intoxicated. The penalties for conviction also depend on the jurisdiction in which the charge is brought, but they may include fines, jail time, counseling or suspension of driving privileges. Individuals who have been charged with such offenses may want to contact an attorney.
Drunk driving and drunk biking are serious charges and should not be taken lightly. An attorney with experience in criminal defense law may be able to help by challenging the admissibility of prosecution evidence, e.g., blood alcohol test results. An attorney may be able to negotiate a plea bargain in some states or gather evidence and deposition testimony in preparation for trial.
This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified drunk driving lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local drunk driving attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.