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Motorcycle DUIs in California

Motorcycle riders have different challenges than drivers when operating on California roads and highways. Motorcyclists have to drive defensively when careless drivers are not paying attention or don't check their blinds pots. Riders are not protected by roll cages, shatter-proof glass, or airbags, like drivers and passengers. Motorcyclists may also be targeted by police officers for traffic stops on suspicion of drunk riding. 

Drunk Motorcycle Riding Arrests in the East Bay

Even though motorcycle riders aren't "driving," riders are still held to the same standards when it comes to drunk driving laws. Under California Vehicle Code 23152, "(a) It is unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any alcoholic beverage to drive a vehicle; and (b) It is unlawful for a person who has 0.08 percent or more, by weight, of alcohol in his or her blood to drive a vehicle."

Under California Vehicle Code § 670, a vehicle is defined as, "a device by which any person or property may be propelled, moved, or drawn upon a highway, excepting a device moved exclusively by human power or used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks." This includes motorcycles.

Motorcycle riders may give police officers more reasonable suspicion to conduct a traffic stop because motorcycle riding may be subject to additional scrutiny by police officers. Motorcyclists have to drive with additional challenges that drivers do not have to worry about, which may make it appear like motorcyclists are driving erratically or impaired. 

Penalties for a Motorcycle DUI in California

The penalties for a motorcycle DUI are the same as for drivers. Penalties for a 1st-offense DUI can include possible jail time, fines, suspended license, DUI school, and community service. There may be additional penalties for subsequent DUIs, injury DUIs, or fatal drunk riding accidents. 

Suspended Motorcycle License After a DUI Arrest

After an arrest for a DUI in California, drivers and riders will have their licenses administratively suspended after 30 days. Drivers can keep their driving privileges for longer as long as they request an administrative per se (APS) hearing with the DMV within 10 days of the arrest. If a driver is convicted of a DUI, their license will be suspended. 

Drivers who have a suspended license after a DUI can get a restricted license that allows them to drive if they install an ignition interlock device (IID). An IID tests the driver's breath for the presence of alcohol before the car can start and so it can continue operating. However, most IID installers do not install IIDs on motorcycles

If a motorcyclist can't get an IID or doesn't have a car, they may be left without transportation until the suspension is over. However, motorcyclists may be able to request a waiver so they can get a restricted license to ride for limited purposes, such as to and from work, court hearings, or for medical care. 

Detection of DWI Motorcyclists for Law Enforcement

Police officers in California are trained in recognizing possible signs of impaired driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a report on "The Detection of DWI Motorcyclists." This provides guidance for law enforcement to detect riders that may be under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. 

According to the NHTSA, in 2020, about 27% of motorcycle operators involved in fatal crashes had a BAC of 0.08% or higher. For passenger vehicles, 23% of fatal crashes involved alcohol impairment. 

Cues for Predicting Impaired Motorcycle Operation

According to the NHTSA, the following are considered "excellent cues" for predicting impaired motorcycle operation. They cite these clues as having a 50% or better probability.

  • Drifting during turn or curve 
  • Trouble with dismount 
  • Trouble with balance at a stop 
  • Turning problems (e.g., unsteady, sudden corrections, improper lean angle) 
  • Late breaking
  • Inattentive to surroundings
  • Inappropriate or unusual behavior (e.g., carrying or dropping objects, urinating at the roadside, disorderly conduct, etc.) 
  • Weaving

Other clues with a 30% to 50% probability for predicting impaired riding include: 

  • Erratic movements while going straight 
  • Operating without lights at night 
  • Recklessness
  • Following too closely 
  • Running stop light or sign 
  • Evasion
  • Wrong way

As motorcycle riders know, there are plenty of other reasons why a rider could appear to be driving erratically even if the rider is not impaired. Bad roadways and roadway debris could cause a rider to turn sharply or weave to avoid a possible accident. Riders often have to brake late or turn late to avoid an accident with drivers who are not watching out for riders.

The initial research to develop these cues was based on interviewing police officers on what they thought might determine what behavioral cues can be used to detect impaired riders. Some officers thought the cues were the same between motorcycles and vehicles. Other officers said there are no cues that can be used to distinguish DWI from impaired motorcycle operation. 

Signs of Impairment After a Traffic Stop

Some of the behavioral cues involve officer observations after initiating a traffic stop. When a motorcycle rider pulls over after the officer flashes their lights and sirens, they may look for trouble with balance on stopping. Some riders who are impaired by alcohol may have trouble putting one or both feet on the ground to stabilize, or shifting weight from side to side to maintain balance. However, this could also be explained by uneven terrain on the side of the road or a sloping roadside. 

Parking and dismounting may also be observed as part of a sobriety test. The rider has to turn off the engine, deploy the kickstand, then balance on one foot while swinging the other foot over the seat. Trouble dismounting can be a cue for police to evaluate the rider for a DUI.

Call an East Bay DUI Defense Lawyer After a Motorcycle DUI Arrest

Lynn Gorelick has more than 39 years of East Bay DUI defense experience and understands the challenges facing motorcycle riders after a DUI arrest. Before you give up and plead guilty, ending up with a criminal record, get experienced legal advice. If you are facing DUI charges anywhere in Oakland, Alameda County, or Contra Costa County, contact attorney Lynn Gorelick

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