Can I get a DUI on a Bicycle?
- November 20, 2014
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“Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.”
– H.G. Wells
Bikes are great. Great exercise. Great transportation. But are they a great alternative to driving when you’ve had a few drinks? In Washington, the answer is yes.
Before I get to the analysis, I am not endorsing drinking in excess and getting on a bike. Use your best judgement: bicycling requires balance and quick reaction time, both of which are impaired by alcohol consumption. Plus, there can be legal consequences to bicycling drunk besides DUI, which I will address below.
Why Bicycles Are Not Subject to DUI Laws
Under the Washington DUI Statute, its unlawful for any person to operate a vehicle in Washington while under the influence of alcohol, drugs or a combination of the two.
While the legal definition of “vehicle” includes bicycles, case law indicates that bicycles are not considered vehicles for purposes of the DUI statutes.
The Washington case of Montesano v. Wells involved a person charged with driving a bicycle under the influence. The court held that “neither legislative intent, the statutory scheme, nor public policy support the conclusion that [the DUI statute] was intended to apply to bicyclists.”
Basically, when you drive a car drunk, you put people and property in substantial danger. The legislature is not as concerned about someone choosing to put themselves in danger; it is concerned when that choice affects others. Considering drunken bicycling, the bicyclist potentially is in danger, but people and property are way less at risk.
What Laws Apply to Drinking and Bicycling?
There is a law specific to “intoxicated bicyclists.”
Under the law, a police officer may offer to give a ride to an intoxicated bicyclist to a safe place or release the rider to a competent (i.e., sober) person. If the bicyclist refuses, he or she cannot sue any government agency for an injury afterwards.
However, the officer can impound the bicycle if the officer believes it is necessary to reduce a threat public safety and no other reasonable alternative is available. Within 30 days, the rider can get the bicycle back when they are sober, for free.
Additionally, there are all manner of charges that can result from bicycling drunk if you are not careful. I could see a creative prosecutor charging assault in the case of an accident, reckless endangerment, etc.
Note, however, that while public intoxication (drunk in public) is not a crime in Washington, people that are a danger to themself or others based on intoxication can be taken into protective custody (sometimes referred to as “the drunk tank”). This danger to yourself is real: the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports over one-fourth (28%) of cyclists killed in 2009 had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .01 or higher, and nearly one fourth (24%) had a BAC of .08 or higher.
Additionally, you expose yourself to civil liability if someone is injured.
In conclusion, there are a whole host of risks, but DUI is not one of them. Being responsible reduces those risks.