Ever thought about going out for a night on the town and really turn up the fun but were concerned about how you were going to get home? Did you then wonder if you could just ride your bike up the block to the local tavern and ride it back down after your night of fun? Hopefully this article can answer your questions about whether or not you can be charged with driving under the influence (DUI) for riding a bike drunk.
Before I begin, however, let me point out that this article is for informational purposes only. I have not done a comprehensive search of each state’s laws regarding this question, so your state’s rules might be different. Before you decide to go out on the town and ride your bike drunk (or even ride your bike after drinking), please consult an attorney in your area just to make sure. Also, finally, the goal of this article is not to encourage people to ride their bikes drunk. Whether or not it is illegal, it is dangerous. The sole purpose of this article is to answer a question many people have.
Let’s set the scene here to help answer our question. Let’s say you are at home at night, in Bellevue or Seattle, Washington, for the purposes of the example, and you have a few beers while watching a game during the weekend. At the end of the game, hungry for some Dick’s, you hop on your bike and make the approximately 1 mile journey toward hamburger heaven. While on your way to the restaurant, you are pulled over by a police officer. The officer notes that you weren’t riding your bike straight, your breath smelled of alcohol, and your eyes were bloodshot (side note – you are guaranteed to see these physical symptoms almost one hundred percent of the time in police reports). After observing these signs, the officer asks if you’d be willing to take some field sobriety tests. You agree, and perform marginally (side note again – in Washington in particular, you should never agree to take field sobriety tests – you have no obligation to). At that point you are arrested on suspicion of DUI and taken down to the Seattle police station.
The question no becomes, is riding a bicycle while intoxicated a criminal act? The statute regarding driving under the influence, if, in our example, the guy was riding his bike in Seattle, reads, “A person is guilty of driving under the influence of intoxicating liquor or any drug if the person drives a vehicle within this state…” RCW 46.61.502. Because of this, the questions then become, what is a “vehicle.”
Vehicle is defined in Washington statutes (in keeping with the example) as “including every device capable of being moved upon a public highway and in, upon, or by which any persons or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a public highway, including bicycles. The term does not include power wheelchairs or devices other than bicycles moved by human or animal power or used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks. Mopeds shall not be considered vehicles or motor vehicles for the purposes of chapter 46.70 RCW. Bicycles shall not be considered vehicles for the purposes of chapter 46.12, 46.16, or 46.70 RCW. Electric personal assistive mobility devices are not considered vehicles or motor vehicles for the purposes of chapter 46.12, 46.16, 46.29, 46.37, or 46.70 RCW.” Chapter 46.12 covers certificates of ownership and registration. Chapter 46.16 covers vehicle licenses, and chapter 46.70 covers dealers and manufacturers. What this means is at this moment it appears as though bicycles fall into the definition of vehicles under the DUI statute.
But not so fast. One of the great things about American law is that the courts (and your Seattle DUI attorney) are able to argue not only the plain language of the law, but the intent of the legislature when creating the law. In this case, a review of the legislative intent, combined with a review of other statutes, shows that bicycles were never really intended to be included in DUI laws. First, regarding legislative intent. The legislature altered the definition of vehicle not to encapsulate bicycles for drunk driving purposes, but to encapsulate bicycles in the traffic rules and regulations. Before this definition was altered, bicycles were not technically required to follow the rules of the road. Including bicycles in the definition of vehicles allowed that to occur.
Second, the definition for all other DUI related rules appear to include a reference to motor vehicles and require at least exercising control over a motor vehicle. This further promotes the idea that bicycles and bicyclists were not intended to be covered by DUI statutes. Additionally, the penalty for drunk driving itself doesn’t make sense with someone on a bicycle. The primary punishment is suspension of driving privileges – only riding a bike doesn’t require a license.
So, at least in our Washington example, if you ride a bicycle while drunk, you most likely cannot be convicted of DUI. And this rationale seems to apply to most other states as well. But, as I mentioned previously, before doing anything, please speak with an experienced DUI or criminal attorney.