The vast majority of people I talk to either think that DUI laws apply equally to bikes, or not at all. But both of those groups are wrong.
Up until recently, I myself was in the first group. The group that believe that the same penalties and fines for driving a car while intoxicated apply to bikes. I imagine this line of thinking has to do with the “bikes follow the same laws as cars” mantra. You know, the phrase that is constantly used against cycling when someone rolls a stop sign, but completely ignored when we’re told to get out of the lane.
On first glance the law would actually seem to support this notion as well. While many states have DUI laws that refer only to “motor vehicles,” California does not:
(a) It is unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any alcoholic beverage to drive a vehicle.
(b) It is unlawful for a person who has 0.08 percent or more, by weight, of alcohol in his or her blood to drive a vehicle.
However, we also have Article 4 of Division 11 of the CVC, which specifically covers the operation of a bicycle. It opens with this:
(a) A person riding a bicycle or operating a pedicab upon a highway has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this division, including, but not limited to, provisions concerning driving under the influence of alcoholic beverages or drugs…
California Vehicle Code 21200
OK…. Still sounds like the DUI laws fully apply right? Well, until you get to 21200.5
Notwithstanding Section 21200, it is unlawful for any person to ride a bicycle upon a highway while under the influence of an alcoholic beverage or any drug, or under the combined influence of an alcoholic beverage and any drug. Any person arrested for a violation of this section may request to have a chemical test made of the person’s blood, breath, or urine for the purpose of determining the alcoholic or drug content of that person’s blood pursuant to Section 23612, and, if so requested, the arresting officer shall have the test performed. A conviction of a violation of this section shall be punished by a fine of not more than two hundred fifty dollars ($250). Violations of this section are subject to Section 13202.5
So yes, DUI laws in the state of California do apply to bicycles, but it is a different set of laws. The fines are very different ($250) but you can still loose your license if you are under 21.
But no matter what, don’t go riding around drunk. Unless you are at a CX race. Then it might be OK.