Can You Get a DUI on a Bike?

Blue bike laying in the road after incident with a car - Dui on a bike concept

It is well known that it is illegal to operate a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol in the state of Washington. Most people are also aware that if convicted of a DUI, serious consequences can follow — including license suspension or revocation, monetary fines, and a lengthy jail sentence. However, you might be wondering whether you can get a DUI on a bike. Although bicycles are legally classified as vehicles in Washington, the short answer is “no.” But if you’ve been caught riding a bicycle under the influence of alcohol, there are still other criminal charges you may face.

The City of Montesano v. Daniel Wells

Since bicycles fall under the same category as a “vehicle” in Washington, many find it surprising that they are not treated in the same way when it comes to a DUI. However, this was the very issue that was addressed in the landmark case The City of Montesano v. Daniel Wells in 1995. In this matter, Wells was stopped by the police at 3 a.m. after he was observed swerving and making wide turns while riding his bicycle on a back street. He was arrested and charged with a DUI on a bike.

Wells was found guilty of riding his bicycle while intoxicated at a bench trial. He subsequently appealed the conviction on the grounds that the legislature had not intended to criminalize bicycling while intoxicated.

After considering the applicable statutes, the Washington Court of Appeals determined that it was not the intent of the legislature to extend DUI laws to include bicycles. In its reasoning, the Court of Appeals held that even though the term “vehicle” was used in the DUI statute, other related statutes used the term “motor vehicle.” It found that using the terms “vehicle” and “motor vehicle” interchangeably was the result of “inattentive drafting,” and applying the statute to bicycles “would lead to an absurd result.”

Ultimately, Wells’ conviction was overturned by the state Supreme Court — and the case set a critical precedent under Washington law.

Criminal Offenses for Riding a Bike While Intoxicated

While you cannot be arrested for a DUI on a bike, it is important to understand that it is still technically illegal in the state of Washington to operate one while intoxicated by drugs or alcohol. But even though you can’t be charged with a DUI while riding a bicycle, there are several other criminal charges you could potentially face, depending upon the facts and circumstances.

Criminal offenses that could be associated with riding a bicycle while intoxicated might include the following:

  • Reckless endangerment — If a bicyclist recklessly created a substantial risk of serious injury or fatality to another, they could be charged with the gross misdemeanor of reckless endangerment. This offense comes with a jail sentence of up to one year and a maximum fine of $5,000.
  • Disorderly conduct — A bicyclist who intentionally obstructed traffic can be charged with disorderly conduct. For instance, if a bicyclist rode into vehicular or pedestrian traffic while intoxicated, they could face a misdemeanor with a maximum fine of $1,000 and a 90-day jail term.

In addition, Washington law specifies protocol for law enforcement to transport an intoxicated bicyclist to a safe place, or they may release them to a competent person. The statute also provides that the police may impound a bicycle that was operated by an intoxicated rider in the event an officer determines that impounding it is necessary to reduce a threat to the safety of the public. The bicycle can be reclaimed when the rider no longer appears to be intoxicated. If it is not reclaimed within 30 days, the bicycle can be sold or disposed of under the law.

Contact an Experienced Washington DUI Attorney

The DUI laws in Washington are some of the toughest in the country — and if you’ve been arrested for operating a vehicle under the influence, it is crucial to have a skillful attorney who will fight to protect your rights. Providing knowledgeable counsel and adept advocacy, the Fox Law Firm PLLC has been successfully representing clients throughout Washington in DUI cases since 1985. Contact Jon Fox for a complimentary consultation to learn how he can help by calling (425) 584-6649.

Categories: DUI Information