Is Bicycling Under the Influence Illegal?
Walking and Bicycling Under the Influence
According to a report from the Insurance Institute For Highway Safety (“IIHS”), in 2014, more than one-third of pedestrians and one-fifth of bicyclists killed in crashes were impaired by alcohol. Studies show that being under the influence of alcohol or other mind-altering substances impairs brain functions and decision-making which, in turn, can lead to dangerous behavior and reduced physio-motor skills (very important for riding a bike).
Fatality rates have not changed much in the last 20 years. As the IIHS reports here, among those who were alcohol impaired, “… the percentage of fatally injured pedestrians … was 39 percent in 1992 and 37 percent in 2011. Among fatally injured bicyclists, the percentage was 26 percent in 1992 and 25 percent in 2011.”
Biking or Walking Under the Influence Not Illegal Per Se
Under New York law, biking under the influence is not illegal per se. In the famous case State v. Szymanski, 63 Misc.2d 40 (1970), it was held that drunk driving laws applied only to use of motor vehicles. In the Szymanski case, the defendant was driving a horse-drawn buggy and since no “motor” was involved, his case for drunk driving was dismissed. By analogy, since a bicycle is not a “motor vehicle,” the prohibitions against drunk driving under N.Y. Veh. & Traf. Law § 1192 would not apply to drunk bike riding (or to drunk walking).
However, a drunk bike rider can be charged with reckless endangerment or public intoxication, and this is true for pedestrians, as well. Other public safety laws might also apply.
According to a 2013 survey of state laws by BikeLeague.org, four states have laws that specifically criminalize bicyclists found riding under the influence. By contrast, there are five states that specifically exempt bicyclists from all or part of the state DUI statutes.
The term of art is “unpowered foot-pedal conveyance” which covers tricycles, skateboards, etc. The remaining states and the District of Columbia are split in how their laws are interpreted. As the website reports: “In 24 other states, there is some reason to believe, based upon the language of the DUI statute, definition of a vehicle, or the interaction of the two, that the DUI law does not apply to bicyclists …. In the remaining 21 states, and the District of Columbia, it is likely that bicyclists can be charged with DUI …”
Many Argue That Biking While Drunk Should be a Crime
The counter-argument is that exempting drunk biking can significantly reduce drunk driving. The argument often turns on your view of who is in need of protection: potential victims or the intoxicated person. A drunk bicyclist is a significant risk to him or herself. Dodging cars and trucks while biking in a city already dangerous. Being drunk makes it worse. And worse still, most drunk cycling is done at night, which increases the danger. According one medical doctor who writes for the Huffington Post, “‘[j]ust one alcoholic drink can impair vision, judgment, muscle coordination and other critical skills when riding a bike. Even at .02 (roughly one drink), cyclists were six times more likely to be injured.”
All in all, whether technically illegal or not, biking under the influence is a bad idea. Our Long Island drunk driving defense attorneys at 888-DUI-Lawyer say skip the drink, and bike and walk safely.
Contact a Long Island DUI Attorney Today
Need to know more about laws against public intoxication or need legal help with a DUI charge? Arrested for DUI and not sure what to do next? Contact an experienced Long Island DUI attorney at 888-DUI-Lawyer today. We offer no cost/no obligation consultations 24/7 and if you are unable to come to us, we will make arrangements to come to you.