Cycling Legalese – Biking Under The Influence
Welcome to Cycling Legalese, a new online cycling law column from everyday cyclist and Chicago based injury lawyer, Brendan Kevenides. He is the creator of popular law blog, The Chicago Bicycle Advocate and is a Certified Bicycle Instructor by the League of American Bicyclists. His Chicago law practice is dedicated to representing cyclists injured by the negligence of drivers, government officials and equipment manufacturers. In this installment we cover biking under the influence of alcohol. Many people do it as a alternative to driving, but what is the legal standing of BUI?
Submit your own questions in the form at the end of the column.
Q:I love fueling my rides through the city with beer and Malört, but I’m wondering; could I get in trouble for biking under the influence?
Brendan Kevenides, P.C.:The degree to which you can find yourself in legal trouble for cycling while intoxicated varies depending on where you are. In some places, bicyclists cannot be charged under a particular state’s DUI law. In Illinois, for example, the appellate court decided in 1995 that the state’s DUI statute only applies to a “vehicle.” Under the Illinois Motor Vehicle Code a bicycle is not considered a vehicle. Therefore, cyclists may not be charged under that particular law. The same is true in New York and several other states. However, if you are drunk and acting a fool (Malort? Really?) you many still find yourself in trouble for violating local public drunkenness and/or disorderly conduct laws. These laws generally do not carry penalties as great as DUI statutes; still, you could wakeup the next day with a real legal hangover.
On the other hand, there are states that do not bat an eye at charging cyclists under DUI laws. If a police officer in Oregon stops you after knocking a few back do not expect a kumbaya moment. In the home of Portlandia bikes are considered vehicles and a cyclist may face the same penalties for pedaling non compos mentis as would a motorist. The same is true in Pennsylvania and Florida.
California is special in that it does not mess around with the is a bicycle a vehicle or not distinction. Its legislature passed a law just for pissed pedalists. It plainly states that, “It is unlawful for any person to ride a bicycle upon a highway while under the influence of an alcoholic beverage or any drug, or under the combined influence of an alcoholic beverage and any drug.” Hard to find any wiggle room there. On the other hand, the consequences in Cali for a BUI are not the same as for driving under the influence. “A conviction of a violation. . . shall be punished by a fine of not more than two hundred fifty dollars.” The State of Washington has also taken a somewhat unique approach to drunk cycling. In 1995, that state’s appellate court held that the DUI statute did not apply to bicyclists. So, in 2000 the legislature passed a new law permitting police officers to take a real hands on approach. If an officer believes a cyclist is drunk they my offer to “transport the intoxicated bicycle rider to a safe place; or release the intoxicated bicycle rider to a competent person.” The cyclist has the right to rebuff the officer’s offer of assistance. However, if the officer believes the bicyclist posses a “threat to public safety” the bicycle may be impounded.
For some reason biking and drinking tend to align like mustaches and irony. These days bikes, bicycling and alcohol are often marketed together as if the one experience implies the other. I can only speculate as to how and why that is. Perhaps, it is the meme of vitality, youth and freedom that cycling and conspicuous drinking share. Regardless, there are potential consequences, legal and otherwise, to biking drunk. Alcohol is involved in more than one-third of all bicyclist fatalities, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Nothing contained in this column should be construed as legal advice. The information contained herein may or may not match your individual situation. Also, laws differ from place to place and tend to change over time. No reader should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information presented herein without seeking the advice of an attorney in the relevant jurisdiction. This column is meant to promote awareness of a general legal issue. As such, it is meant as entertainment. It does not create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader.
Cycling Legalese Question Submission Form: