The United States Census Bureau says that the number of Americans who elect to travel by bicycle rather than by motor vehicle has risen by 43% in the last fifteen years. With that many people peddling to get to where they are going, it is safe to assume that a fair number of them are doing so while intoxicated.
While every state has its own laws and penalties, drinking and driving is illegal nationwide. The behavior involves potentially deadly risks, not only for the impaired driver, but also to all other drivers, pedestrians, and passengers on the road. But does that mean drinking and biking is also illegal? Can bicyclists be charged with DWI in Minnesota?
DWI laws tend to cover automobiles, motorcycles, trucks, SUVs, motorboats, snowmobiles, aircraft, commercial vehicles, and other various forms of traditional and nontraditional forms of motorized transportation. However, in regards to bicycles, specific state laws vary across the country.
In many locations, DUI and DWI laws are applied strictly to impaired drivers of motor vehicles. Some states do not even consider a bicycle to be of form of vehicle. However, there are a few areas where drunken bicyclists can be penalized in the same ways as drunk drivers. For example, drunk bikers have faced criminal charges in Vernal, Utah, and Boulder, Colorado. In California, the state vehicle code allows police to arrest and charge bicyclists on the highway who are impaired by alcohol, and the bikers could be fined $250.
Most Minnesota residents are well aware of the state’s harsh drunk driving penalties. Despite this, there are no such legal infractions for those who operate a bicycle while under the influence of alcohol. Minnesota law only addresses the impaired handling of motor vehicles. Motor vehicles, as outlined in the statutes, are objects that move without the use of human power. Anything that moves strictly by human force alone does not fall in line with this definition.
So unless the bicycle is equipped with an electric motor to power it, police officers cannot arrest or charge a person for hopping on their bike after having too many beers. Likewise, there are certain other objects that are exempt from Minnesota DWI laws. Segway scooters are considered “electric personal assistive mobility devices” rather than a motor vehicle. The same holds true for electric wheelchairs.
Of course, just because it is not illegal to operate a bicycle when drunk, that does not mean it is a wise idea.
Many people assume that bicyclist can cause very little damage or harm to anybody when they ride under the influence of alcohol. However, there are other people who argue that they are a risk to other bicyclists as well as pedestrians. Even when a drunken bicyclist is the only one injured, the consequences of the accident still radiate to affect other people – namely, the bicyclist’s friends and family.
Statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that in 2011, 23% of fatally injured bicyclists had a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08. Had these individuals been operating a motor vehicle instead, Minnesota DWI law would have found them to be legally impaired. Riders with a BAC that high are too inebriated to properly maintain balance, safely navigate in traffic, and recognize hazards. They are also far less likely to wear protective gear and more likely to take unnecessary risks.
As a rule of thumb, anyone who chooses to drink alcohol should avoid operating any mode of transportation for the sake of their own safety as well as those around them. However, if you find yourself in need of legal representation in a case where you were impaired by alcohol, contact one of our attorneys to set up an initial consultation.