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Bicycling Drunk in California


I see it all the time, especially at night while I'm at a favorite beach yogurt shop next to a local pub.

The event is a "pub crawl," which involves a group of fun-seekers traveling from bar to bar on their bicycles. The pub crawlers often ride "fixies" on fat tired bikes to the pub. They park and proceed to listen to some tunes, watch sports, and chat. Then, they leave . . . on their bikes. I have to admit that I'm glad they are not driving car, and I'm sure you know why.

However, riding a bike while impaired has legal consequences, not to mention the obvious risks to one's own personal life and limbs.

The relevant code section is California Vehicle Code section 21200.5, which classifies operating a bicycle under the influence as a misdemeanor[1]. The bad news is that the term "under the influence" can be interpreted broadly by the prosecution's expert forensic toxicologists. Some say you are under the influence when your blood alcohol content is as low as .05 % (2 to 3 beers in an hour for a 165 lb. person); others argue .08% is the magic number. Either way, expect an officer to conduct field coordination tests, request you blow into the optional, (if an adult), hand-held "PAS" (portable breath machine), and possibly extract a blood sample with a phlebotomist at the police station, in order to meet their burden of proof.

As for the consequences, a violation of operating a bicycle under the influence is a misdemeanor per CVC §40000.13(c), and a violation of the bike DUI law is only punishable by a $250.00 fine, not jail like a DUI in a car. (It's unlikely a conviction will subject you to a driver's license suspension per CVC §13202.5.) Because bicycling under the influence is a misdemeanor, you should request a trial. Keep in mind that it's unlikely a prosecutor will spend $5,000 a day, (the cost to run a courtroom for trials), just to obtain a $250.00 conviction, so an infraction plea bargain is likely.

So, there you have it, a brief peek into the world of riding a bicycle while impaired.

(Whereas, "motorized electric" bicycles and scooters have special rules that govern their use. See California Vehicle Code sections 23135, 24016, 406, 407.5 and the "Swann-Gilbert" rule.) Although it's legal to drink and ride, (within limits), always remember to wear bright clothes, reflectors, lights, and a helmet of course, but most importantly limit your alcohol intake.

Last, be sure to obey all the traffic laws, because if even if you are wrongfully hit on a bike, the insurance industry may try to avoid responsibility in paying your claim, or claim you're partially at fault, because you had a lawful drink. This could amount to a reduction of thousands of dollars in your recovery.

If you're injured, hire an experienced trial attorney.

Ride Safe, Ride Strong! 760-730-0500

©Richard L. Duquette, Esq. All rights reserved April 25, 2017

[1] The parallel California Vehicle Code sections for driving a car while under the influence of an alcoholic beverage are CVC §23152(a)(b) and CVC § 23153(a)(b).