It’s never a good idea to get on your bike or behind the wheel of your car while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. However, the consequences vary depending on which state you live in.
If you’ve had a few drinks, save the cycling for your commute to work or for your weekend (daytime) adventures. Ride-sharing costs a lot less than losing your driver’s license or crashing your bike into someone’s mailbox.
Can you get a DUI on a bike?
DUI laws vary from state to state. Not all states charge bicyclists with a DUI if they are caught riding under the influence of drugs or alcohol. It depends on how the state classifies bicycles. In states where bicycles are classified the same way as cars and trucks, you are more likely to receive a DUI.
Even in states without bicycle-specific DUI/DWI laws, you might get a fine or other penalty for an offence that results from cycling under the influence. For example, you can still be arrested for public drunkenness. Watching other people stumble their way from the bar to their car or bike may cause you to chuckle, but consider the consequences before you do this yourself.
How the law defines DUI
Driving under the influence refers to operating a vehicle while intoxicated following the use of alcohol, recreational drugs or prescription drugs. While laws vary from state to state, operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.8 per cent, based on your weight, qualifies as a DUI.
Your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is impacted by your weight, how much you drank and how much time has elapsed since you stopped drinking.
For cyclists, if you cannot manage to put on your helmet, that’s probably a sign that you should get another ride home. If you can’t find your bike, do you really think you should pedal home?
Laws by state
Some states include bicycles, skateboards and scooters in their DUI laws while others do not. Refer to the chart below for an overview of bicycle DUI laws by state.
|State||Do DUI Laws Apply to Bikes?||Comments|
|Alaska||Do Not Apply|
|Arizona||Do Not Apply|
|California||Do Not Apply||DUI laws don't mention bicycles. However, other laws prohibit riding while under the influence on highways, streets and sidewalks.|
|Delaware||Do Not Apply||Delaware law prohibits riding a bike under the influence when it creates a hazard.|
|District of Columbia||Apply|
|Illinois||Do Not Apply|
|Iowa||Do Not Apply|
|Kansas||Do Not Apply|
|Kentucky||Do Not Apply||KY law prohibits operating an unmotorized vehicle while under the influence.|
|Louisiana||Do Not Apply, by court ruling|
|Maine||Do Not Apply|
|Massachusetts||Do Not Apply|
|Michigan||Do Not Apply|
|Minnesota||Do Not Apply|
|Missouri||Do Not Apply|
|Montana||Do Not Apply|
|Nebraska||Do Not Apply|
|Nevada||Do Not Apply|
|New Jersey||Do Not Apply|
|New Mexico||Do Not Apply|
|New York||Do Not Apply|
|Oklahoma||Do Not Apply|
|South Carolina||Do Not Apply|
|South Dakota||Apply, specifically naming bicycles|
|Tennessee||Do Not Apply|
|Texas||Arguably, highly unlikely|
|Utah||Apply, rarely enforced||Utah law is unclear. It allows DUI/DWI laws for bicyclists but excludes bycyclists from driver's license penalties.|
|Vermont||Do Not Apply|
|Virginia||Do Not Apply|
|Washington||Do Not Apply, by court ruling||Police may take intoxicated cyclists to a safe location. Bikes can be impounded and retrieved later without charge.|
|West Virginia||Do Not Apply|
|Wisconsin||Do Not Apply|
Other potential charges
Even in states that do not include bicycles in their DUI laws, you can still receive fines and jail time depending on the circumstances. For example, public intoxication is generally considered a misdemeanor and may carry fines of $500 or more. These charges could make it difficult to get a job or find a place to live. Also, your insurance premiums are likely to go up if you’re charged with endangering others as a result of your actions. You have to ask yourself if it’s worth the risk to have a few extra drinks.
If you avoid criminal charges, you still may face civil liability for any damage or bodily injury you cause while weaving your way home on your bicycle. If you do get hit by a motor vehicle, you could face civil penalties for causing the crash.
What are the penalties for DUI while biking?
Getting your first DUI conviction typically counts as a misdemeanor. In Texas, you may face DUI charges and a fine of $500 for public intoxication. In Illinois, you won’t receive a DUI charge, but you could still end up paying fines for civil violations, depending on the circumstances of your arrest.
In states that include bicycles in their DUI laws, you will typically face the same penalties for operating a bike as you do for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence. A conviction can result in jail time, community service, license suspension, and/or court-ordered substance abuse evaluation.
Dangers of cycling under the influence
You probably wouldn’t put on a pair of ice skates and hit the local pond in the middle of winter after drinking a six-pack. Similarly, riding your bike after drinking or using drugs has the following effect on your coordination and brainpower:
- Slow reaction time
- Impaired vision
- Poor balance
Approximately 25 per cent of cycling deaths involve an intoxicated rider. Doesn’t a warm, safe Uber sound better than breaking your arm or wrapping your bike around a stop sign?
Can you get a DUI on a bike? The answer is it depends—but why would you want to?
Image at top: © John Englart | Creative Commons