On a strict reading of Washington’s DUI law, an argument could be made that you can be charged with driving under the influence of alcohol while riding a bicycle. Fortunately, the Washington courts have wrestled with this issue and ruled that, while a bicycle is a type of “vehicle,” the legislators did not intend to include non-motorized bicycles in the DUI laws. How we got here, however, is an interesting ride.
An appellate court decision on bicycle riding DUIs
The case of The City of Montesano v. Daniel Wells decided the issue of whether a bicycle should be considered a vehicle – meaning that a bicycle rider could be charged with a DUI. In the case, a bicycle rider was pulled over after a police officer saw the rider making wide turns and swerving. The officer testified that the bicycle rider’s speech was slurred, he had an odor of intoxicants, and he was swaying on his feet. The rider failed some of the field sobriety tests he was given. He was then charged with a DUI. At the police station, the bicycle driver was given a breath test which recorded a .13 BAC.
As of the time of the offense, RCW 46.04.320 defined a motor vehicle as “every vehicle which is self-propelled,” which would mean a bicycle is not a motor vehicle.
As for the definition of “vehicle,” prior law specifically excluded bicycles. The law as of the offense date changed the definition to include “every device capable of being moved upon a public highway and in, upon, or by which any persons or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a public highway, including bicycles.” (RCW 46.04.670.) A strict reading of the DUI statute (which referenced “vehicle” and not “motor vehicle”) thus included bicycles.
Fortunately, the appellate court didn’t stop there. It analyzed how laws should be interpreted, various DUI statutes that used the words “vehicle’ and “motor vehicle” interchangeably, and what the legislature truly intended. It ruled that “the statutory scheme as a whole also leads us to conclude that the Legislature did not intend to apply the DUI law to bicyclists.”
Whether you can be charged with DUI while riding a scooter, electric bike, ATV, or lawn mower are issues that not certain. The key test seems to be whether the vehicle can be “self-propelled.” Electric bikes and ATVs can generally be self-propelled. Scooters and lawn mowers may be capable of being self-propelled – depending on the type of scooter/vehicle.
What criminal penalties may be charged against a bicycle rider who drivers while intoxicated
Washington’s DUI law specifically provides “A person is guilty of driving while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, marijuana, or any drug if the person drives a vehicle within this state – if certain conditions apply.” The most common condition is that the driver of the vehicle has a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or more.
DUI convictions carry severe penalties including prison time, large fines, loss of driving privileges, increased insurance penalties, and the need to use an ignition interlock device. So, it’s good news that the appellate court decided not to include bicycle riding while intoxicated as a DUI charge. This doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. If you drive a bicycle while drunk you may be charged with:
- Disorderly conduct
- Reckless endangerment
You could possibly be charged with reckless driving though the same defense as used in the Wells case may apply.
There may be defenses to a DUI charge such as that the vehicle you were driving isn’t a motor vehicle. Other defenses include challenging the right of the police officer to stop you and the validity of any tests you took. At Philbrook Law Office, our DUI lawyers have extensive experience contesting DUI charges. We have a strong track record of success in having charges dismissed or having the charges reduced to less serious offenses. To discuss your case, please call our offices in Vancouver or Battle Ground, WA. You can reach us at 360-695-3309 or fill out our contact form.
Founding Attorney Matthew Philbrook attended Clark College, Washington State University, and Gonzaga University School of Law. He is a member of the Washington State and Oregon State Bar Associations and started Philbrook Law Office in 2005. He specializes in Personal Injury, DUI and Criminal Defense cases. Learn more about Mr. Philbrook.