We’re going to preface this by pointing out that even where it’s less legally problematic to ride your bike while drunk (or otherwise intoxicated), it’s still not a good idea!
Cyclists must ensure that they are staying aware of their surroundings at all times because they are sharing road space with vehicles much larger and heavier than a bike as well as with pedestrians.
So, while not all states will slap you with a DUI for biking under the influence, the chances of getting into a more serious accident are raised and you may still get slapped with a fine or another penalty if you are caught.
That being said, there are states where you can cycle drunk and not get slapped with a DUI. It usually boils down to how the state law views a bike – as in, whether bikes are viewed as vehicles like cars or not.
In states where a bike is considered a vehicle, you can get hit with a DUI if you’re caught cycling drunk. In states where bikes are not considered vehicles, you may not get slapped with one – although you may still have fines or other penalties to contend with, depending on who pulls you over.
For example, a police officer could easily slap you with public intoxication for being visibly drunk.
Driving Under the Influence laws do vary by state, but there are a few blanket statements we can make about it. DUI can be defined as someone who either has .08% or more by weight of alcohol in the blood (blood alcohol level) or is under the influence of and impaired by alcohol or another controlled substance.
Intoxication is an observed state, meaning that it usually falls on the police officer or other witnesses to determine whether there’s a need for further testing of the person who is suspected of being intoxicated.
The first conviction of a DUI is a misdemeanor in most states, whether it’s by car or by bike (in states where the DUI laws apply anyway).
The issue for people who are trying to figure out whether they have to worry about DUI or not (or might have been hit with a DUI when they feel they should not have been) is whether the bike is defined as a vehicle or not since most DUI laws are built around the idea of operating a vehicle while intoxicated.
The Issues Around DUI and Cycling
DUIs and cyclists are murky together. Although many states treat bikes as vehicles for the purposes of things like DUI, the reality is that a cyclist who is drunk will generally cause a lot less havoc than a driver who is drunk.
There are also fewer accidents ascribed to drunk cyclists compared to drunk drivers. As a result, advocates often argue that there should be a separate body of law that concerns itself purely with biking under the influence (or BUI) rather than either ignoring it or lumping it under driving under the influence.
A few states have made steps towards this, but for the time being, drunk cyclists are either treated as DUIs or are perhaps stopped by police officers and given a ride to a safe place with no real consequences to contend with.
This should not be taken to mean that you will get off free for cycling drunk. The rates of accidents and injuries do go up with drunk cyclists and it’s much easier to get hit by a car or to hit pedestrians.
And officers can still do things like impound your bike, pull you off the road, or otherwise stop you from cycling if you are perceived as being a hazard to others around you.
Biking Under the Influence Laws by State
|State||Does DUI Apply to Bikes?|
|California||No, 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.|
|Delaware||No, 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 Columbia||Yes|
|Kentucky||No, but the law does prohibit people under the influence from operating unmotorized vehicles.|
|Louisiana||No (Court ruled)|
|South Dakota||Yes and even specifies bikes|
|Texas||Technically yes; however, charges are rarely pursued.|
|Utah||Yes, but it’s hardly ever enforced|
|Washington||No, 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|
Cycling under the influence can be a little tricky to navigate and define since bikes aren’t classically thought of as ‘vehicles’ or as something that is dangerous to ride. It’s further muddied by the fact that many people will ride their bike home from a party or a club, drunk, and this is considered safer than driving.
And it is true that a cyclist will not be able to cause the same level of harm to society as a drunk driver. However, drunk cyclists are still a danger to themselves, other cyclists, pedestrian, and yes, to drivers as well because they become that much more unpredictable.
As you can see, many states don’t consider bikes to fall under their DUI laws; however, you can still have your bike impounded or be taken off the road for being a hazard to others.
There is a small push for ‘BUIs’ (Biking Under the Influence), but so far, it has only taken off in a few states such as Washington (and even then, it doesn’t carry any penalties, just impounding and a ride to a safe place).
All in all, while it is not usually illegal to bike while drunk, it’s still not advisable. It’s easier to get into accidents, harder to pay attention to what you’re doing, and you can easily become a hazard to others.
If you’re drinking, find an Uber or safe ride home or a safe place to stay and leave your bike chained up.