Do you know the laws about drunk biking in Illinois? What about the possible risks? Read this post to find out more. Check out our Bike Safety series to learn more about biking safety and bike laws.
The issue of drinking and cycling is one that probably doesn’t come up enough and few really know much about it. If mentioned in conversation, someone admitting to biking while intoxicated never – in my experience – receives anything compared to the scorn that someone admitting to drinking and driving might. Maybe that’s not entirely unreasoned, but there is sufficient reason to believe that drinking and biking isn’t as benign as people’s silence might indicate.
The main reason that few chide people for drinking and biking is probably because the perceived danger of the activity is minimal. One of the main reasons people condemn drunk driving is its selfish nature. When you drink and drive, you not only put yourself in danger, but being that you’re in control of two tons of fast-moving metal, plastic, and glass, you’re also putting others in harm’s way. Maybe this it’s here that we find the disconnect between drunk biking and drunk driving. Bikes weigh a lot less than cars and they can’t go nearly as fast, so they’re perceived as less of a danger to others. Anyone would admit that, yeah, drunk driving may lead to someone hurting themselves, perhaps a scraped face or leg, or even a broken bone, and maybe even some minor damage of someone else’s property, like a busted up mailbox (though I think that’s actually a federal offense…).
Dangers of Drunk Biking
Alcohol definitely has some effect on your ability to bike. Anyone who’s biked after having a beer or two – or really, anyone who’s had a beer or two – would probably concede that. When you look at the numbers, though, it starts to seem pretty dangerous. The New York Times reported in 2009 that, in a study of bike accidents between 1996 and 2005, 21% of cyclists who died within three hours of a bike accident had alcohol in their system. That’s actually pretty staggering. That’s over 1 in 5. Looking at further evidence, a Portland, Oregon study found that while 15% of cyclists killed or injured had high blood alcohol levels, when looking just at those adults sustaining fatal injuries, the percentage jumped to half. There are numerous other studies in and outside of the US to corroborate this. When I compare these numbers to the amount of people I know biking on a daily basis, the vast majority of them sober at any one time, it’s clear that the degree to which alcohol increases the chances of death or serious injury is actually pretty high.
Coming back to the impact on others, biking while drunk may be more dangerous to others than it’s perceived to be. While you might not be able to destroy a car in the way that you could while driving, you could definitely veer into traffic, causing another car to hit someone or something. Put simply, biking drunk can increase the chances of you killing another person.
Legality of Drunk Biking
Legally speaking, you cannot get a DUI for biking while drunk in Illinois, something that I’ve confirmed with calls to both the Champaign Police Department and the Illinois State Police. This is because a bike is not legally defined as a vehicle in Illinois and therefore operating a bicycle while intoxicated is not treated as operating a vehicle. However, if (1) your bike is motorized and (2) you’re traveling at speeds above 20 mph, your bike is considered a vehicle and you can be charged with a DUI.
Intoxicated biking laws differ by state, and a post by the League of American Cyclists found that in 18 states you can be charged with a DUI for biking while intoxicated. Other states have separate charges for biking while intoxicated (Often referred to as BUI). Though you can’t get a DUI for biking while drunk in Illinois, you may be subject to other charges like public intoxication or disorderly conduct, or could be ticketed for any traffic offense you commit. (I should add that if your bike is motorize
I’m not writing this to judge anyone, but I think that drinking and biking needs a serious reevaluation by the community. In my experience, drunk biking is often regarded as something so harmless that mild humor is frequently invoked, signifying some degree of tacit approval. When you look at some basic statistics, though, it’s clear that drunk biking is something that’s far from safe. Next time you think about biking after having a few drinks, maybe you should consider bussing it or walking your bike home instead.
Let us know what you think! What are your experiences with drunk bikers (yourself or others)? What should be the legal penalty for drunk biking? How do you think the cycling community can better address this issue?