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

Categories: Crime, Environment
In some states, the laws seem to be a bit harsher than the South Dakota policy, but penalties don't necessarily rise to the level of treating drunk cyclists the same as those who drive drunk. The article notes:
In California, BUI [biking under the influence] is a separate offense from DUI and doesn't carry the same consequences. Cyclists can request a blood-alcohol test if they want to try to prove they're sober, but police can't require cyclists to be tested. In Washington, drunk cyclists can be stopped--and transported to a safe place--but not arrested for DUI.
Auraria campus bike lane image.jpeg
Sam Levin
A new bike lane at Auraria campus.
A University of California site says the consequences for a so-called BUI (bicycling under the influence) include a fine of up to $730 and possible documentation on the individual's driving record.

A Washington bike law website notes a provision on "intoxicated bicyclists" that allows police officers to "offer to transport a bicycle rider who appears to be under the influence of alcohol or any drug" to a "safe place".

Oregon has one of the strictest laws in this category, says Bernardi, who has done research on DUI policies for cyclists and contributed to the article. There, he says, drunk cyclists are treated exactly the same as drunk drivers and face the same consequences.

"It's about as harsh as you can get," he says, adding, "I think it's going overboard. It's not to say that there's no harm done with DUI on a bike, but really, the harm you are doing is to yourself.... I just don't see the point of imprisoning someone or taking their driver's license away."

As we reported yesterday, it is unclear at this time how Denver's DUI policy for cyclists might impact an individual's record. But Bernardi says Colorado's policy may be pretty similar to Oregon's.

Of course, these other states are very different from Colorado, and cycling in Denver presents unique challenges. It's also worth noting that the DPD is aligning its operations with state rules, not creating any new law.

"States deal with these issues in different ways," says van Heuven. "And we see that in the state laws in some of these other places, they are trying to not incentivize people to choose driving a motorized vehicle if they are under the influence, and they may do that by lessening the penalty if you are operating a human-powered device."

In researching this issue, van Heuven found that in Colorado in 2010, 98 people were killed as a result of drunk drivers, representing 22 percent of all traffic fatalities, according to a recent press release. In contrast, she says, there's likely not very good local data on the consequences of drunk cycling.

National data, however, shows that alcohol does play a significant role in fatal cycling crashes across the country.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 24 percent of the cyclists killed in 2010 had a blood alcohol concentration of .01 grams per deciliter or higher, and over one-fifth had a BAC of .08 g/dL or higher. And alcohol-involvement -- either for the driver of a motorized vehicle or a cyclist -- was reported in more than 34 percent of the traffic crashes that resulted in a cyclist fatality.

Bernardi believes the more relaxed state drunk-cycling policies seem to make more sense, since drunk cyclists are generally only a hazard to themselves.

"Not to say that society doesn't want to protect people on bikes," he says, "but you're not gonna kill somebody else."

More from our Colorado Crimes archive: "The dispute over a Black Hawk bike ban heads to the Colorado Supreme Court"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at

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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.

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