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Drunk Biking Charges In California: What You Need To Know

Bike riding is a healthy (and often more enjoyable) alternative to driving your car, but riders still need to take responsibility on the road. Unfortunately, as cycling becomes more popular, the likelihood of an accident increases. Studies show that more than a quarter of riders over the age of 16 killed on Californian roads were over the legal driving limit for alcohol when they died. Learn more about the law concerning drunk biking in California, and find out what this charge entails.

What the law says

Section 21200.5 of the California Vehicle Code specifically calls out the offense of drunk riding. The legislation says that it is an offense to ride a bicycle on a highway while under the influence of an alcoholic drink. If a police officer has reasonable cause to arrest you, he or she may request a chemical test to determine if you are over the legal limit.

A conviction under this law counts as a misdemeanor. As such, this offense would give you a criminal record. Even if the authorities later expunge the offense, you must still disclose it when you apply for professional licenses or government jobs. What's more, for riders under the age of 21, the offense may also lead to suspension of your driver's license. Conviction could lead to a fine.

Proving you were under the influence

Before you accept a conviction for this misdemeanor, you should consider the evidence available to the prosecution. To establish a DUI charge, the prosecution must prove three things. They must show that:

  • You were riding a bicycle
  • You were riding on a public road
  • You were under the influence

According to the circumstances of the case, your attorney may find it possible to defend the charge on one or more of these counts.

Proof you were riding a bicycle

It's important to note that the police officer must see you riding the bicycle. For example, if you only pushed the bike by hand, you could not legally face a charge of DUI.

Of course, the bike you rode must also fit the legal definition of a bicycle. Californian bike law applies to a device that relies on human power through a belt, chain or gears and has one or more wheels. As such, this definition does not apply to unicycles, which don't have gears, a belt or a chain.

Ownership of the bike is irrelevant. It doesn't matter if you own, hire or borrow the bike. The DUI laws still apply.

Proof you were riding on a public road

DUI laws only apply when you ride on a public road or path maintained for vehicular travel, such as a public cycle path. A DUI charge does not apply if you drink and then ride your bike on a private road or driveway. Similarly, drunk cycling in a field or park would not violate the law, unless you then ride on a path designed for bikes or cars.

It's important to bear in mind that a charge will apply whether you spend all or some of the time on a public road. For example, if you drink and then ride through a field, but then briefly cycle over a bike lane, a police officer could still arrest you under a DUI charge for the short period you spent on the bike lane.

Proof you were under the influence

A police officer must have probable cause to arrest you for the offense. This means that he or she must have enough evidence to suspect that you are under the influence. For example, if you are frequently swerving and you seem unable to ride in a straight line, a police officer could reasonably assume you are under the influence.

For bike riders, a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 or more does not automatically give evidence of impairment. As such, the prosecution must often call upon expert testimony to give evidence about the link between blood alcohol and your riding ability. For this reason, the police will not normally automatically request a BAC test. Without this, your attorney has a good chance to challenge the arresting officer's conclusion that you were DUI.

Drunk biking is illegal in California, but prosecutors must present a strong case before they can convict you. Talk to a trained DUI attorney from a firm like Kassel & Kassel A Group of Independent Law Offices for more information and advice if you're facing this charge.