Many people in the East Bay use bikes as an alternative to driving. A bike can help riders avoid Bay Area traffic jams, get exercise, and are a much greener alternative to vehicles. Some people also ride bikes when going out drinking to avoid the dangerous combination of drinking and driving. However, while bikes are not considered motor vehicles under California law, cyclists are still required to follow certain laws, including provisions under the California Vehicle Code which relate to biking under the influence.
Bicycling Under the Influence in California
Under California Vehicle Code VC Section 21200.5, it is unlawful for any person to ride a bicycle while under the influence of alcohol or any drug, or combination of alcohol and drugs. This is also known as cycling under the influence (CUI).
Why are bicycles regulated by the vehicle code?
A person who rides a bicycle on a highway has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions of a driver of a vehicle under California law. This includes provisions related to driving under the influence. See California Vehicle Code VC Section 21200.
A “highway,” under the vehicle code, is not limited to what most people think of as highways. It includes any “way or place of whatever nature, publicly maintained and open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel. This would include public roads and streets in California.
Do the police require a chemical test after a CUI?
No. Unlike California's implied consent law, riding a bike on the street does not carry any implied understanding that you have given consent to consent to a chemical test.
Instead, the opposite is true. If you are arrested for a CUI, you can request to have a chemical test to determine the amount of alcohol or drug content in your system. If you make a request for a chemical test, either blood, breath, or urine, the arresting officer shall have the test performed.
What drugs or substances are included?
Any alcohol or any drug, including marijuana, heroin, or prescription medications that have an impairing influence are considered intoxicating under the law. However, unlike DUI laws, there is no set baseline legal limit of alcohol in the body to be considered a per se violation.
Any influence of drugs or alcohol on the cyclist may be enough for police to arrest a suspect. You do not necessarily be drunk or intoxicated to be charged with a CUI. The police may arrest a person just for the appearance of being drunk or on drugs. This creates a potential defense to CUI charges where someone may just be a poor bike rider, or distracted by some other activity, or even swerving to avoid colliding with a car or pedestrian.
How do police determine whether a rider is under the influence?
An officer may arrest someone for bicycling under the influence based on observation of their riding, their general behavior, or evidence of alcohol or drug use. For example, if a person is weaving on their bike, having near collisions with objects, or failing to abide by traffic rules, an officer may cite them as impaired. Additionally, if an officer sees or smells alcohol on a rider, this may increase suspicion of a CUI.
Penalties for Cycling Under the Influence
A person found guilty of bicycling under the influence will face a fine of up to $250. There is no jail time associated with this offense. However, a CUI is still considered a misdemeanor and will give you a criminal record.
Other associated offenses may be charged, including public intoxication if the police determine you were interfering with the use of public areas and were unable to take care of yourself. There are additional penalties if you are convicted of a CUI when you are under the age of 21.
Underage Cycling Under the Influence
With a large number of college and university students in the East Bay, many young people celebrate during parties and sporting events with the consumption of alcohol, even though they are under the legal age to drink. Some popular college sporting and social events bring in a number of students by bike, who may have been drinking, which can lead directly to a charge of cycling under the influence.
If a cyclist under 21-years-old is convicted of CUI, they may have their driver's license suspended for a year. An underage bicyclist may also be cited if they have alcohol in their possession. A minor in possession charge may carry additional fines, community service, and penalties.
Defenses to a CUI in California
Possible defenses to a cycling under the influence charge may depend on the individual facts of the case. An experienced DUI and CUI lawyer will investigate your situation, and help you determine the best defenses for your individual case. This could include questioning the police officer's impressions that you were under the influence but were actually avoiding obstructions or potholes or swerving to avoid an accident.
Some states or cities have considered legalizing or decriminalizing laws against impaired cycling because it is generally considered a safer alternative to drinking and driving. However, California has not considered this change and maintains penalties against impaired cycling.
Experienced DUI Attorney Representation:
Lynn Gorelick understands the issues facing the local community and charges including bicycling under the influence. Whether you are arrested in Fremont, Oakland, Berkeley, Dublin, or anywhere else in Contra Costa or Alameda Counties, Lynn Gorelick is familiar with the local DUI and CUI laws, as well as the local officers. With over 30 years of DUI experience, Lynn Gorelick understands the law and the science required to fight DUI and other alcohol charges.