The holidays are upon us, and maybe you want to have a glass of wine or two with a friend or share a joint at the local pot cafe and are now on your way home... by bicycle. It's a popular form of commute in Washington. In fact, Washington is honored with the title as the country's number one "Bicycle Friendly State" by the League of American Bicyclists since 2008. So, it's not crazy to think that someone who just smoked a joint or sipped on an alcoholic beverage may then hop on his or her bike to cycle home or to wherever the next destination is. It never occurred to you that it could be illegal until a friend asks you about it. Now you're wondering: can I legally have a drink of alcohol or smoke a joint and then get on my bicycle to go home, or do I need to call Uber?
According to Washington state law, bicycles are technically vehicles, and operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs is illegal. What does this mean for bicyclists? Not much.
Bicycles may technically be vehicles, but they are not vehicles in the meaning of the law when it comes to operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Washington's Supreme Court made sure of the same in its decision in City of Montesano v. Wells. Daniel Wells was convicted of a DUI emanating from an incident while riding his bicycle. After his conviction, his appeals made it all the way to the Supreme Court, which found that the law applied only to "motor" vehicles and that there was no intention of it applying to a bicycle, a non-motor vehicle.
Safety on a Bike
Just because operating a bicycle after having a drink will not get you arrested, you should still practice safety. That said, there are laws related to bicycling, though some are local, not applicable state-wide:
- Wear a helmet. This law is a local law, and though many states and localities require it, Seattle does not.
- Bicyclists have all rights and responsibilities as motor vehicle drivers while they bike on roads. If you ride on the road, you are subject to the same rights and responsibilities that automobile drivers are subject to. If you don't abide by those rules, you could be ticketed.
- You can cycle on the shoulder or in a bike lane. Wherever you feel more comfortable or safe, you can cycle on a path, bike lane, shoulder, or travel lane.
- If traveling at night, you must use a white front light and a red rear reflector. The white front light must be visible for 500 feet. A red rear light may be used, too, but it can only be used in conjunction with the required red rear reflector.
A BUI Stands only for Boating Under the Influence in Washington State
You may have heard by way of rumor or a whisper that if you get on your bike after having a drink, you could be arrested. Even police officers still think the law applies and will charge someone of it. That rule no longer applies, and any such charge today will be dismissed. If, however, you visit our neighbors to the south of us in Oregon or California, then yes, you can be cited and arrested, for bicycling while under the influence of alchol or drugs, even if the drugs are legal for medical or recreational purposes.
Today, in Washington state, operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs only applies to automobiles and boats. If that happens to you, then contact an experienced DUI lawyer to help you with your case. But for now, you can still ride your bike.