Yesterday’s Bike to Work Day had many car hounds scratching their heads as they noticed an inordinate number of people walking around the office with matted bike-helmet hair, shouting “on your left” while walking past in the hallway. But for those who have been well aware that National Bike Month is upon us—those who’ve been counting the days to warmer weather, yellow racing jerseys and chain marks—let us remind you of a few things: Use hand signals when turning, be leery of adult riders with handlebar streamers and never mix alcohol and biking.
While organized biking events abound during the month, you might find yourself caught up in the festivities. Or you might end up at a post-work happy hour that could pose a handlebar-challenge. Depending on your state or town you could be charged with bicycling under the influence (BUI). Laws against drinking and riding gained relevance after a six-year New York City study showed that 21% of all city bicycling deaths involved bicyclists with alcohol in their systems.
The consequences of BUI vary by locale. In California you can be fined up to $730 and have the citation noted on your driving record (say goodbye to that pedicab job). But because police can only cite alleged drunken bicyclists based on judgment – by law they cannot ask you to step off the bike saddle and submit to a sobriety check – you can challenge a BUI charge by requesting a blood alcohol test.
In Washington, police are more forgiving. Instead of citing you, they have the authority to give you a ride home or to a safe location.
Minnesota has no laws on the books against drinking and bicycling, but this does not grant immunity from being arrested for public intoxication.
Think twice if you’re in Oregon. It has the toughest BUI laws in the nation. Get caught riding your bicycle drunk and you could face the same repercussions as DUI. Ouch. Imagine the subsequent awkwardness of trying to explain to your spouse that you lost your driver’s license for pedaling your Schwinn 10-speed drunk down the wrong lane of a bike path. It has all the bearings of a future Portlandia episode.
Conversely, South Dakota has the laxest BUI measures. State lawmakers tossed out its BUI laws under the reasoning they would rather have you riding a bike than a driving a car while booze-blitzed. This way you’re only a threat to yourself.
So if you plan on bicycling and drinking this month (or any for that matter), be aware of the possible consequences. Chances are you won’t be burdened with a bike lock device that won’t unlock if it detects booze on your breath, but you could, depending on your location, be ticketed, or, at the very least, be embarrassed, putting you in the wrong frame of mind for approaching National Tap Dance Day on May 25th.