Precedent is Set: Bicycles are Vehicles, and As Such, Are Subject to DUI

We’re taking a more optimistic view of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals’ recent decision that riding under the influence does, indeed, count as a DUI.  The case stems from the January 2007 arrest of Baker Everton after he almost rode his bicycle yelling and screaming, almost ran into a kid and then fell over.

In making their precedent-setting decision, a three-judge panel came to the following conclusion, written by Associate Judge Vanessa Ruiz:

“The traffic act defines ‘vehicle’ as ‘any appliance moved over a highway on wheels or traction tread, including street cars, draft animals and beasts of burden.  Furthermore, a comprehensive interpretation of the term ‘vehicle’ is consistent with the intent of the traffic act to regulate traffic for the protection of public safety.”

There you have it folks.  Bicycles are vehicles, and any driver that says we don’t belong on the road should go complain that we shouldn’t be subject to a DUI for riding our bikes after a few beers, either.  Suck it.

Read more here.

Comments

Grendel - 04/26/10 - 3:20pm

While I agree with your spin on the topic many DC area cyclists seem to be getting there shorts in a bunch on this one. There is a vocal group that wants the right to the road without the responsibility–they actually want lowered penalties for offenses on a bike. I stand by the mantra: Same Roads, Same Rights, Same Responsibilities which in this case means same penalties for the same offenses.

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BikeWashingtonDC/message/14590 <–This is a DC area cyclist group debating the court action.

Rob E. - 04/26/10 - 4:13pm

I don’t know. I am not in favour of the same penalties for cars and bikes for multiple reasons. For one thing, while I agree that everyone should drive and bike responsibly, the potential for damage riding a bicycle, under the influence or not, is far lower than for any motor vehicle. Which is not to say there’s no potential for serious consequences, but I would guess a cyclist has more potential to injure themselves then anyone else. There continue to be people driving drunk, to everyone’s detriment. If I am on the road at bar closing time, I am worried about the drivers, not the bicycles. If someone was under the influence and was going to unwisely try and get themselves home, I would much rather they did it by bicycle because the potential damage they could do would be less. Also one consequence of a DUI is loss of your driver’s license. It seems to me that if you don’t need a license to ride your bike, you shouldn’t be able to lose your license for anything you’ve done on your bike.
There are many differences in how the law treats bikes vs. cars: safety requirements, taxes, license/registration, age limits. Most of these differences are due to an acknowledgement that bikes do not equal cars in terms of their use, their ease of operation, and the consequences of their missuse. It makes sense to me, and failing to acknowledge that with the DUI laws seems unwise and potentially dangerous. If there are going to people on the road under the influence, I’d rather they be on a bike.

Doug - 04/26/10 - 4:48pm

What about the sober guy who hits a drunk biker? Tickets aside, that driver is going to feel awful either way, especially if he ends up killing the cyclist. Sure, maybe the cyclist is at fault, but it’s not like it’s a victimless offense.

PAT - 04/27/10 - 9:38am

I don’t drink but, I might as well take my car home then my bicycle if I’ve had a few shots.

Topmounter - 04/27/10 - 10:17am

Is this just a local DC thing? I’ve done my fair share of drunk-biking home from the bars at night, but I’ve always done it under the assumption that I “could” get a DUI. That being said, wearing a helmet and staying off busy roads tends to not raise suspicion with the local PD.

It’s all fun and good until you get loaded and ride into traffic and cause a multi-car accident.

Rob E. - 04/27/10 - 10:33am

The guy who hits a drunk biker will feel badly, probably. There will likely be some property damage as well. It’s not that a drunk cyclist poses no risks, it’s that the risks are not nearly the same as drunk driving, and yet the penalty is exactly the same, right down to the point where you can lose your driving privileges even though you weren’t driving. Pedestrians can also get drunk, step into traffic, and cause the same kind of problems as a cyclist. There are laws to address this in the form of public intoxication laws. I could accept some middle ground for cyclists: more serious than just public intoxication, but not as serious as DUI.

And, yes, this is a DC thing. It’s not a national law, but here in North Carolina the same law exists. The laws for DUI used to exclude bicycles (and lawnmowers, and horse riding). In recent years the law was amended, and now biking under the influence is exactly the same offense as driving. There’s still no DUI for drunk on horseback, though.

Itsa Schwinn - 04/27/10 - 4:34pm

Equality is a bitch, but it beats the alternative – inferiority.

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