LEGAL BRIEFING - Biking home after boozing not a good plan

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Dear John,

I like to go to the bar and enjoy the social life there. Of course, I want to do this responsibly. Therefore, I do not drive after drinking. Sometimes, I'm unable to arrange a ride because most of my friends are either also drinking or don't want to be my taxi. I have a bike. Can I get charged with a DUI on a bike?

Sincerely,

Cycling Cyd

Dear Cycling,

I am glad that you want to be responsible when you are out socializing. Not only is riding a bicycle better for the environment than being in a car, you also get the added health benefits. However, I want to caution you that riding a bicycle while under the influence may be dangerous because of the impairment to your motor skills.

As for your question about whether it is illegal, the state statute for Driving Under the Influence reads: A person is guilty of driving while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or any drug if the person drives a vehicle within this state.

The next question is whether a bicycle is a vehicle.

Bicycles are specifically included in the definition of vehicles: "Vehicle" includes 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.

It looks like you need to walk, unless there is an exception.

And there is an exception to the statutes. As it turns out, a cyclist was charged with a DUI about 15 years ago. He claimed as his defense that bikes were exempt from laws pertaining to drunk driving because the Legislature only intended to have the laws apply to motorized vehicles. The court agreed with him.

So, does this mean you can ride your bike with three sheets to the wind? Well, just because you cannot get charged with a DUI does not mean that open container, public intoxication and the other rules of the road that could be violated by an intoxicated cyclist don't apply. They do.

Your goal, as you stated in your letter, was to be responsible. This should include trying to be safe. Whenever one's ability to function is decreased, appropriate precautions should be taken to prevent mishap.

Trying to operate a bike after drinking may not be an appropriate action. It sounds like a viral video in the making, if not a calamity.

Sincerely,

John

John Hartzell is a Walla Walla attorney. No attorney-client relationship is established via this column, which is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Have question? Ask John at askjohn@wwub.com.

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