Drunk cycling: Is Denver's new bike DUI policy harsher than rules in other states?
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.
|A new bike lane at Auraria campus.|
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 bicycling.com 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"