Friday, September 10, 2010

Time Out On Drinking and Bicycling

The article below, written by John Greenfield, appears in the current edition of Time Out Chicago.  

(I do like to call myself the "Chicago Bicycle Advocate," especially when I'm alone, but my friends call me Mr. Chicago Bicycle Advocate;-)

When I ride my bicycle home from a bar drunk, am I breaking the law?

Photo: Andrew Nawrocki
Q When I ride my bicycle home from a bar drunk, am I breaking the law? Does it fall under the same blood-alcohol-content DUI regulations as operating a motor vehicle? —Easy Rider, Logan Square
A Crocked Chicago cyclists can’t be charged with a DUI, says Brendan Kevenides, a lawyer who specializes in bike cases and calls himself the Chicago Bicycle Advocate. In 1995, the Illinois Appellate Court decided this issue in People v. Schaefer, upholding the dismissal of criminal charges against a drunk bicyclist. Since state law doesn’t define a bike as a “vehicle,” the court found that Illinois’s DUI statute did not give cyclists fair warning they could face harsh penalties for pickled pedaling. Kevenides notes that cyclists can be charged with public drunkenness or disorderly conduct, but the penalties for such offenses are substantially less than those for a DUI. Even so, Active Transportation Alliance’s Margo O’Hara says it’s “dangerous and irresponsible” to spin while sauced. But Mark Cuneo, a manager at the bike-centric Handlebar Bar & Grill, recommends one reason to choose two wheels over four for a night of carousing. “Instead of driving home drunk or leaving your car overnight, you can always throw your bike in the trunk of a cab.”


  1. I might be wrong, but I believe that Chicago passed a drunk cycling law around 20 years ago.

  2. Drinking and riding seem to be more and more accepted, even promoted, in biking culture, something I consider very sad. So many have been working hard for at least 40 years (some very much longer) to convince the public, lawmakers, police, and other riders that bikes are not toys, and should be taken seriously on the road as a viable means of daily, year-round alternative to cars. Saying or even suggesting that it is OK to drink and ride undermines this effort.

    I'm not talking about a reasonable defense in court, but an attitude that is becoming more pervasive in bike culture. Look through the websites of many manufacturers of bike products (focus on messenger bags) and you will find this. Even one of the biggest and most mainstream manufacturers of messenger bags has a video on their website describing how their strap will keep your bag on even if you are drunk and fall off your bike - and the video starts with the presenter drinking a beer. That's no way to promote an industry, or bicycling as a way of life.

  3. There's no way in hell riding a bike drunk should get you a DUI.

    I'd rather have 10 drunk cyclists ride right toward me than be anywhere near a single drunk car driver.

    It's common sense people.

  4. In response to the last comment: so if a drunk cyclist causes an accident involving motor vehicles which result in serious injury or death, that is OK? Or less 'bad' than a driver causing the same? Or a drunk cyclist hits a pedestrian and they fall and die from a head injury that is somehow more excusable than the same result caused by a driver? I'm not out to pick on cyclists, I am one myself, but we are not immune from the consequences of our actions.

  5. there are a couple of points to make why it should be considered a lesser crime to ride a bicycle drunk than a car. first you do not need a license to ride a bike, so it can not be subject to the same restrictions(driving is a privilege not a right). second there is a far greater ability to cause serious injury and damage with a car than with a bike, the person at greatest risk bicycling drunk is the bicyclist.

    clearly it should be avoided and should not be supported, but there should be a distinction in the law.

  6. Each state is different as it pertains to the law ... I found this blog post about ND law as it relates to DUI on a Bicycle

    Bicycle DUI

  7. I'm a cyclist and a driver. I want the laws to be fair, and I try to promote a safe cycling environment. There is a swath of bicycling culture that revels in drinking and bashing drivers, and screams at every outrage that places any level of responsibility on them. Too many of them are just as aggressive toward pedestrians as they are toward drivers. These people hurt the cause of safe cycling, and harm efforts to elevate cyclists to having safe and full rights of passage on roads.

    Clearly cyclists are less likely to cause harm riding drunk than auto drivers, but bikes are still riding on the roadway which in my mind, raises their level responsibility. A drunk pedestrian could cause an accident as well, but pedestrians are not primarily in the street. Cyclists have a greater level of responsibility and should be held accountable for riding drunk.


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