Drunk cycling: Is Denver's new bike DUI policy harsher than rules in other states?

Categories: Crime, Environment

Bike safety cover art.jpeg
Yesterday, we reported that Denver Police are now enforcing state drunk-cycling laws -- meaning intoxicated cyclists can be charged with DUIs just like inebriated drivers. Some cycling advocates question whether this is good public policy -- and a look at parallel laws around the country shows that Denver's approach is harsher than some other states' enforcement rules.

The Denver policy change was spurred by a complaint from an individual who got in an accident with a cyclist who did not face charges for riding while intoxicated. Although Colorado law says drunk cycling is illegal and cyclists under the influence can be charged with DUIs, the Denver Police Department had not been enforcing this policy. Then, last week, Denver Police Chief Robert White announced in an internal memo that the department would start enforcing state law and charging drunk cyclists with DUIs.

15th Street cyclist, Denver.jpeg
Sam Levin
A cyclist in Denver riding on 15th Street.
The move has sparked a lot of debate in a city where cycling is on the rise, and so are the number of collisions on the road. At the same time, tensions between cyclists and drivers seem to be at an all-time high, especially with recent high-profile cases of alleged bike rage.

The policy change is especially of concern to the organizers of the city's famous Denver Cruiser Ride, a weekly group cycling event during which participants stop at bars.

DPD officials argue that the department is simply enforcing state law and encouraging safe behavior, but some cycling advocates worry that this new plan could potentially encourage bar patrons to get back in their cars -- which they see as a more dangerous option -- instead of riding their bikes. Some question whether the DPD enforcement is an efficient use of resources, arguing that intoxicated cyclists are much less of a menace than drunk drivers.

So how do other cities address this somewhat complicated question?

Piep van Heuven, executive director of BikeDenver, the city's main advocacy group for cyclists, sent us a article outlining different state's policies in regard to riding bikes under the influence.

In some cases, it appears that the laws are more lax for drunk cyclists than for drunk drivers.

Notably, South Dakota has a law designed to encourage people who have had too much to drink to ride bikes instead of cars, as detailed in this excerpt:

South Dakota changed its state law to make bicycling under the influence legal. Legislators wanted to encourage people who'd had too much to drink to ride their bikes instead of driving. However, you can be arrested for disorderly conduct if you make a drunken spectacle of yourself.
A site called notes that, as a result of a case called State v. Bordeaux in South Dakota, officials carved out an exception in DUI policies for people riding bicycles (and, apparently, horses).

"The reason they changed it [in South Dakota] was because they wanted to encourage people not to drive drunk," says Rick Bernardi, who is a research assistant with, law practice of attorney Bob Mionske, who focuses exclusively on representing injured bicyclists. "If someone is riding a bike and they're drunk, we'd rather have that than a car."

Continue for more drunk biking policies in other states.

Sponsor Content

My Voice Nation Help

It must really hurt donkey.  I'm sure you're one of those people that obeys every law on the books (Eye roll).

The links you provided are articles where cyclists were speeding and unfortunately killed pedestrians.  Two of the instances were cyclists speeding down hills and riding through stop signs.  The other instance the cyclist was on a trail and while probably going too fast broke no laws.  None of cyclists were intoxicated.

Where is an article or link where an intoxicated cyclist killed someone?  It takes coordination and balance to ride a bicycle something that is very difficult to do if too intoxicated.  I agree the cyclist who caused the accident with the scooter should have been charged with something.

Let's face it the PD typically doesn't enforce minor traffic violations because in most instances the cyclist (Intoxicated or not) will lose in most collisions.  The intoxicated rider is probably less likely to be speeding and mowing down pedestrians.  If too intoxicated to ride it is much easier to walk or call a cab.  Enforcement of these laws should be on a case by case basis but to enforce DUI on a bicycle with the same penalties as DUI while operating a motor vehicle is recockulous.

donkey links = Epic Fail



seems like south dakota has the right idea. i might as well drive my car if the penalties are the same.

Chris Estus
Chris Estus

@Dustin until your drunk reckless riding causes an accident. No bike DUI, no charge for running over a drunk biker.


Bikes don't KILL innocent bystanders. Cars DO. That's why DUI charges are so harsh. Bravo to the individuals who choose BEFORE going out to get on a bike instead of in a vehicle. What are the cops going to do now? Cruise the neighborhoods and roadside test? Please. That would be the most ridiculous wast of taxpayer dollars. An automobile driver definitely shouldn't be held accountable for medical bills and automobile damage after a drunk cyclist collision, but a drunk cyclist does NOT pose the same threat as a drunk driver. 

Josh Bradley
Josh Bradley

Agreed Jonny. Since the cops don't bother to ticket them for not obeying traffic laws it should be made up for elsewhere. Just imagine if cops actually started ticketing cyclists on a regular basis for traffic infractions? The revenue would be immense.

Jonny D Foxtrot
Jonny D Foxtrot

Who cares? There are already so many cyclists in this city that ride like total self-entitled douchebags - running lights, running stop signs, riding on the sidewalk, riding the wrong way on one-way streets, turning without signaling - that penalties should be just as harsh, if not harsher, for them as the penalties are for all of the douchebag drivers in this city/state.

Carl Wlodarczyk
Carl Wlodarczyk

Next, lets make it illegal to watch auto racing while drinking. I don't have a problem with penalties if someone is an obvious menace to others, but if the penalty is the same for getting on a bike as getting in a car, there are plenty of people who are going to opt for the car - and that high speed, 2 ton chunk of steel and glass is much more dangerous.

DonkeyHotay topcommenter

It is a CRIME under Colorado State Statute to operate a bicycle or any other vehicle while drunk.

If you don't like that, then change The Law! ... hire lyin' Brian Vicente and mendacious Mason Tvert to create a Constitutional Amendment to Regulate Bicycles Like Automobiles!! 

... remember, Government Regulation Works! ... and Strict Regulation Works Better!!

So quitcherbitchin and remember --  Don't do the Crime if you can't do the Time!


My name is Farres I was riding a bike in Denver getting home to my sisters. I had a few drinks and crossed a walking lane thinking I had the right away due to the stop light angled at a very misleading position. I tboned a car and flipped over with no damage to myself or the car. Just my bike. Cop comes followed by paramedics. After i exit the ambulance I'm arrested for a DUI. I've been on probation and suffer the same consequences as if I was driving a car. I haven't spoke to the DMV. But hope to god it doesn't affect my license. This is my second DUI with the first being 4 years apart. Fuck my life. And fuck you Denver pd

DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@YeahNo "Bikes don't KILL innocent bystanders."

Does it hurt to be so ignorant?

*** Bicyclist Kills Pedestrian at Crosswalk ***

*** Woman Dies After Being Hit By Bicyclist ***

*** Bicyclist Who Killed Pedestrian Sentenced ***


@DonkeyHotay @YeahNo pretty rare occurrences. I'm sure if everyone who'd biked home from the bar in the last 10 years had driven instead, we'd have a LOT more dead people as a result.

Now Trending

Denver Concert Tickets

From the Vault