Can you get a DUI on a Bicycle?


Let’s be clear, getting a DUI is never a good idea!

According to thezebra.com, more than 25% of all traffic related deaths are the direct result of alcohol impairment. And about 290,500 people get injured in accidents caused by alcohol impairment every year! 

What constitutes a DUI varies from state to state and in this article, I’ll be discussing a couple of topics that pertain to biking and DUI. I’ll be sharing with you what a DUI is, if you can get one while biking and how to handle being pulled over by the cops. 

I’ll also touch on the legal requirements for a BUI, potential penalties and charges for biking under influence and bicycle DUI laws pertaining to each state. 

WHAT IS A DUI?

The definition of a DUI varies by state but I’ll give a blanket interpretation of what it means to drive under the influence. 

A DUI is the offence of driving a vehicle while being impaired by alcohol or drugs to the extent that the driver cannot operate the vehicle safely. 

A DUI can also be loosely defined as driving with a blood alcohol concentration of (BAC) of .08% or more. 

Basically, the more you drink, the higher your blood alcohol concentration(BAC) and that is why DUI laws use BAC to determine if a person is driving under the influence or not. 

A DUI charge is not limited to alcohol – it includes the use of prescription drugs, over the counter drugs and even illicit drugs.

CAN I GET A DUI ON A BIKE?

Binge drinking at a party

Can you actually get a DUI if you’re riding a bicycle? Maybe, Yes and No, it depends. The possibility depends on where you live.

In some states, the laws are written in a way that prevent you from ever getting a DUI on a bicycle. In other states, the laws are less forgiving and getting a bicycle DUI is a possibility. 

As a cyclist, you have to be alert and fully aware of your surroundings at all times. You’re not only sharing the road with different vehicles but with pedestrians who can be at risk if an accident occurs. 

Biking under the influence as a cyclist attracts different penalties across various states in the US. This depends on whether the state law views bicycles as vehicles like cars or not. 

In some states, biking under the influence is a dangerous activity that could lead to criminal and civil liability. While not all states will charge you for DUI, you may get slapped with a fine or penalized for public intoxication. 

Related post: How to turn light on electric bike

All states have two types of DUI charges and in states where bicycles are classified as vehicles, if arrested, you can be charged with either.

These are: 

  1. Per se charge: This charge is NOT based on actual impairment. Proving a per se charge involves showing that the driver had a BAC of 0.8% or more using results from chemical tests of the driver’s blood, breath, or urine. 

A per se DUI is based solely on the amount of alcohol or drug content in the driver’s body. This means that a per se conviction does not require proof that the driver was actually impaired by the substances ingested. 

So, as long as the amount of alcohol or drug in the system is above the legal limit, one can be charged with a DUI per se. 

  1. Impairment charge: This charge is based on actual impairment caused by drugs or alcohol on the driver. It is given when the alcohol or drug noticeably impairs the driver’s mental processes and actions. 

Sometimes, the alcohol or drug in a driver’s system may be less than the legal limit, but still be enough to impair their cognitive behavior. 

In some states like Maine, the prosecution only needs to prove that drugs or alcohol had some effect on the driver. 

But in other states like California, the ingested substance must be proven to have had substantial effects that rendered the driver incapable of driving safely. 

Some proofs of impairment are slurred speech, irrational or unusual behavior, smelling of alcohol, having red eyes and failing the field sobriety test. 

CYCLING AND DUI

White wine and book in bicycle basket

While DUI laws regarding bicycles depend on the statute of the state, getting a bicycle DUI is something you should avoid.

In some states where you can get charged with a DUI, you’d find that although bicycle accidents aren’t as serious as motor vehicle accidents, they both carry the same charges. 

Fines can vary from about $200 to $2000 for a first offender. And in some cases, although uncommon, offenders get substantial jail time of up to a year. 

In most states, a DUI conviction is regarded as a misdemeanor except in cases where the offender has a certain number of prior DUI convictions or if the case involves injury or death. 

So although biking DUI laws vary from state to state, charges are not uncommon and their severity is determined by a few factors. 

TIPS TO HANDLE BEING PULLED OVER BY COPS

If you ever get pulled over by the cops while riding a bicycle, make sure to follow standard protocol in order to ensure your safety. Usually, the same roadside testing to check if a motor driver is under the influence is performed on cyclists too. 

Follow these tips to stay safe when pulled over:

  • Be calm and polite in your interaction with the officer
  • At all times, keep your hands in view and avoid making any sudden movements. 
  • Keep your responses short and simple. Do not implicate yourself by admitting to any wrongdoing on the spot. 
  • When let go, if you decide to fight the charge, write down everything that you can recall from the incident. This will be useful in fighting your case. 
Wooden legal gavel

To determine what can lead you to getting a BUI, the following factors will give some insight: 

  • Does your state have a bicycle-specific DUI-like statute? 

When a state has a BUI statute, it will make specific judgement on how intoxicated cyclists are to be punished. If your state does not have this or the statute does not clearly prevent DUI laws from applying to BUI cases, law enforcement officers may choose to use more general public intoxication laws. 

  • Is a bicycle a vehicle? 

Although bicycles are generally given the rights and duties of vehicles, they are not always defined as vehicles. The definition of what is regarded as a vehicle in the state code, in addition to the definition of bicycle will give you an idea of what the penalties can be. 

  • Is your state’s DUI statute written for all vehicles? 

The definition of what is regarded as a vehicle can be really broad. And for this reason, DUI statutes are sometimes written solely for motor vehicles, rather than vehicles generally. In some states, the DUI law specifically excludes vehicles moved solely by human power with altered definitions that specifically target motor powered vehicles.

  • Is there case law on the subject in this state? 

Some states have case laws on the applicability of their DUI law to bicyclists. These case laws can be divided into two separate inclinations. 

The first inclination is determined by whether bicyclists are by their nature excluded from all or part of the state’s DUI law. 

The second is based on whether the language of the statutes exempts the application of DUI law to bicyclists.

According to this table by Bike League

  • Four states have BUI statutes that specifically address penalties for bicyclists riding under the influence.
  • In five states, their statute exempts bicyclists from all or part of the state DUI statute.
  • In the remaining 41 states the application of the state’s DUI laws seem unclear, except for some cases where controlling case law exists.
  • In 24 other states, based on the language of the DUI statute and definition of a vehicle, the DUI law does not apply to bicyclists. However, bicyclists may still get in serious trouble for BUI, but it is likely that the charge will be cited with another statute, such as disorderly conduct or drunkenness in public. 
  • In another 21 states, including the District of Columbia, bicyclists are likely to be charged with DUI based on existing case laws.

POTENTIAL PENALTIES FOR BUI

Guinness Rye Beer in Bicycle Basket

In some states like Ohio, cycling under the influence (BUI) is the same as driving under the influence (DUI) and they both carry the equal level of consequence. This means that BUI offenders and DUI offenders often have the same penalties. Although the penalties vary by state, they generally include: 

  • Fines
  • Possible jail time
  • Driver’s license suspension
  • Community service
  • Probation
  • Substance abuse evaluation and treatment
  • Installation of an ignition interlock device

On the other hand, some states view both differently and biking under the influence is regarded as a misdemeanor which attracts fines. 

For instance, in California, the California Vehicle Code 21200.5 VC prohibits cycling under the influence. This means to ride a bicycle on a public road, path or highway while under the influence of alcohol, drugs or both.

A conviction is a misdemeanor that may be punished by a $250 fine but carries no actual jail time. Apart from the $250 fine, there are no formal legal penalties for cycling under the influence. 

However, the charge is a misdemeanor criminal offense and if you are convicted of cycling under the influence, you will have to report this crime on most job applications and college applications. 

Recommended reading: Learn the correct bicycle hand signals

Even though it’s a minor offence, it still looks bad because it involves alcohol and drugs. If you are under the age of 21 and possess a driver’s license, you will lose it. Also, you will not be allowed to obtain a new driver’s license for one year after a BUI charge.

In a state like California, after paying a BUI fine, you can request for the charge to be wiped from your record. An expungement releases you from any restrictions and obligations associated with your conviction. 

This frees you from the obligation of having to tell potential employers or anyone else about the charge. If the charge is not expunged from your record, it may be considered as a prior conviction in the event of a BUI in future. 

BICYCLE DUI LAWS BY STATE

I mentioned earlier that some states categorize bicycles as vehicles and slap bikers with DUI charges. On the other hand, some states’ laws do not include bicycles in their categorization of vehicles and bikers who ride under the influence cannot be given DUI. 

You might be wondering how DUI varies from state to state. Below is a state-by-state guide to biking under the influence that I got from Bicycle Universe

Bear in mind that even in states where bikers can’t get charged with a DUI, riding a bike while intoxicated can result in other charges like public intoxication. 

Although this is a lesser offense than a DUI, it is still a criminal offense! 

STATEDOES DUI APPLY TO BIKES?
AlabamaYes
AlaskaNo
ArizonaNo
ArkansasNo
CaliforniaNo, but California has other laws that make it illegal to ride on a bike while under the influence. So, it’s not under vehicle DUI, but cyclists can still get in trouble for it under their own laws.
ColoradoYes
ConnecticutYes
DelawareNo, but it is illegal to ride a bike on the road while under the influence of drugs or alcohol if it would create a hazard.
District of ColumbiaYes
FloridaYes
GeorgiaYes
HawaiiYes
IdahoYes
IllinoisNo
IndianaYes
IowaNo
KansasNo
KentuckyNo, but the law does prohibit people under the influence from operating unmotorized vehicles.
LouisianaNo (Court ruled)
MaineNo
MarylandYes
MassachusettsNo
MichiganNo
MinnesotaNo
MississippiYes
MissouriNo
MontanaNo
NebraskaNo
NevadaNo
New HampshireYes
New JerseyNo
New MexicoNo
New YorkNo
North CarolinaYes
North DakotaYes
OhioYes
OklahomaNo
OregonYes
PennsylvaniaYes
Rhode IslandYes
South CarolinaNo
South DakotaYes and even specifies bikes
TennesseeNo
TexasTechnically yes; however, charges are rarely pursued.
UtahYes, but it’s hardly ever enforced
VermontNo
VirginiaNo
WashingtonNo, court ruled. Police can offer to take a drunk cyclist to a safe location and/or impound a bike if the cyclist is perceived as a danger to the public. The impounded bike can later be retrieved for free
West VirginiaNo
WisconsinNo
WyomingYes
US Bike DUI laws by state. Source: Avvo.com

For more info on BUI state laws, check this out. And this too! 

Final Thoughts

So while it might feel cool to ride under the influence, the law doesn’t find it funny that lives and properties are put at risk. If you get arrested, you may spend time in jail, get fined and if convicted, set off a chain reaction that will have a long lasting effect on your life. 

The bottom line is that the consequences of biking under the influence are dire and the best way to not get a DUI is to not bike under the influence of alcohol or drugs. 

I hope this article helps you to always be aware of the risks involved in biking under the influence. Hopefully, you make the right choice for you and other road users. Cheers! 


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