Cycling Under the Influence

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What is Cycling Under the Influence?

California Vehicle Code Section 21200.5 punishes a defendant for riding a bicycle under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

A conviction of a violation of this section shall be punished by a fine of not more than $250.

Vehicle Code section 21200.5 defines this offense as follows: “…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.”

Example:

A woman collided with another pedestrian while riding her bicycle under the influence of drugs in an area of a public park designated for car travel.  The woman can be charged with California Vehicle Code Section 21200.5 – Cycling Under the Influence, because she was riding a non-motorized bicycle on a publically maintained road that is open to the use of the public for purposes of travel.

How Does the Prosecutor Prove Cycling Under the Influence?

To prove that you are guilty of this offense, a prosecutor has to prove the following facts or elements1

  • You were riding a bicycle2.

Example:

A person who is riding a motorcycle, moped, or any other motorized device that looks like a bicycle, under the influence of alcohol or drugs, cannot be in violation of Cycling Under the Influence, because only a person who is riding a bicycle propelled exclusively by human power can violate this offense.

  • On a highway3.

Examples:

  • A man is riding his bicycle up and down his own driveway while under the influence of alcohol.  The man is not guilty of the offense, because one’s driveway is privately maintained and is not open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel.
  • A man is riding his bicycle up and down an unpaved area next to his property while under the influence of alcohol.  Similar driveways, private ways such as unpaved or unopened alleys, are maintained by property owners are not open to the use of public for purposes of travel.  Therefore, in this situation, too, the man did not violate the offense.
  • While under the influence of alcohol or drugs or both4.

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Distinguishing DUI and CUI

  • The California Driving Under the Influence (DUI) laws under Vehicle Code Section 23152 apply only to motorized vehicles – motorized devices propelled by engine power;
  • The California Cycling Under the Influence (CUI) laws under Vehicle Code Section 21200.5 apply only to bicycles propelled exclusively by human power;
  • The California CUI laws do not have a specified blood alcohol level at which a person is considered to be in violation of the laws.  Whether a person was too impaired to ride a bicycle along a highway must be proven with circumstantial evidence.  However, one indication that you should not be bicycling with a BAC above 0.08 percent is that according to the Vehicle Code, a person riding a bicycle on a highway has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle, including, provisions concerning driving under the influence of alcoholic beverages or drugs.6
  • Under the CUI laws, 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 requested, the arresting officer has to perform the test.

How Can You Fight Cycling Under the Influence?

CUI cases have a number of similar defenses that DUI cases have, including the following:

Erratic Driving Was Not Due to Being Under the Influence: A police officer has to be able to articulate reasons for having stopped you in the first place.  Usually, a police officer will testify that he/she saw you driving in an erratic fashion that closely resembled the behavior of a person who is driving under the influence of alcohol.  The officer can also claim that he/she observed other riding behavior that could indicate that the cyclist is under the influence, such as not being able to stay balanced while stopped at a red light; weaving; falling off the bicycle; or failing to follow traffic laws.

However, this testimony can always be countered, because a person could be driving in an erratic fashion even though they are not under the influence of drugs or alcohol.  For example, riding could be erratic if the road is bumpy or slippery, or if you are riding with an injury that is not readily visible to an outsider.  You could also have been tired, sick, or have a medical condition that causes you to ride in an erratic fashion.  If this is the case, you cannot be convicted of this offense.

Example: An experienced cyclist had recently torn a muscle in his leg and was still recovering from the injury.  As a result of the injury, the cyclist could not maintain balance as well as usual while stopped at the intersection.  The cyclist had intentionally fallen over onto one side several times to avoid experiencing greater pain of trying to balance himself in mid air.  A police officer had observed this seemingly erratic cycling pattern and stopped the cyclist.  Because the cyclist’s riding was erratic as a result of an injury, he is not guilty of the offense.

Physical Appearance Was Not Due to Being Under the Influence: If a police officer who stopped you, may testify that he/she thought that you were cycling under the influence, because he/she observed that you had blood-shot eyes, slurred speech, flushed face, and smelled of alcohol.

However, an experienced criminal defense attorney can counter the police officer’s assumptions by proposing other reasons that may have caused you to look the way you did a the time of the stop.

Examples: 

  • you have allergies that cause your eyes to look red and watery
  • you were tired
  • you were ill
  • you experienced sleeplessness in the last week
  • the level of alcohol you consumed was so insignificant that would not affect your ability to cycle

Inaccurate Blood Test Results:

California’s Code of Regulations Title 17 governs the performance of blood and breath tests.  Title 17 requires that when a blood test is conducted the following procedures have to be followed:

  • The blood should be collected using sterile equipment
  • The draw site must be sterilized using a non-alcoholic non-volatile cleaning agent
  • The draw should be performed only by authorized personnel such as a specially trained technician
  • There should be a sufficient amount of coagulant and preservative in the vile
  • The blood should be mixed with the coagulant and preservative
  • The blood should be stored properly in a clean dry contained that is closed with an inert stopper

If any of these procedures are violated, the test results should be challenged as inaccurate, as the resulting BAC may be too high.

Not Cycling on a Highway

The CUI laws only apply to highways, which includes streets that are publically maintained and open to the use of the public for purposes of travel.  The CUI laws do not apply to driveways and private roads, because those are private and closed to the public.  Therefore, one of the arguments that can be made to challenge a CUI conviction is that you were not driving on a highway at the time you were cycling while intoxicated.

Penalties

An offender of California’s CUI laws may be facing a fine of not more than $250 and no jail time.  However, as a result, the offender will have a misdemeanor on his/her record.  Moreover, if you are under 21, but over 13, you may face additional penalties, such as a suspended driving privileges for a year, or delayed issuance of license for a year.

Additional Offenses and Enhancements

Failure to Ride a Properly Equipped Bicycle: If you are improperly riding your bicycle, you may face an additional infraction charge on your record under California Vehicle Code Section 21201.  Under this section, a cyclist must ride a bicycle that is properly equipped.  Failure to do so may give a police office an excuse to stop you and put you through a sobriety test.

Drunk in Public:  Moreover, you may also be charged with California Penal Code section 647(f) for being drunk in public, which prohibits one to be in a condition that he/she is unable to exercise care for his or her own safety or the safety of others, due to being under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs.

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How We Can Help

The Los Angeles DUI attorneys at the Aizman Law Firm have the experience and knowledge necessary to fight your cycling under the influence case. We know the science. We know how to find the problems with the prosecution’s case.

We have extensive experience and specialized training in all areas of DUI/CUI. Our specialized training on the guidelines set forth by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) allow us to achieve successful results in your case. Put a former DUI prosecutor on your side.  Contact the Aizman Law Firm at 818-351-9555 for a free confidential consultation.

Request A Free Consultation 818-351-9555 

Footnotes

  1. California Vehicle Code 21200.5 – Bicycling Under the Influence of Alcohol or Drugs: 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. []
  2. The Vehicle Code defines “bicycle” as “a device upon which any person may ride, propelled exclusively by human power through a belt, chain, or gears, and having one or more wheels.”  California Vehicle Code Section 231 – Bicycle: A bicycle is a device upon which any person may ride, propelled exclusively by human power through a belt, chain, or gears, and having one or more wheels. Persons riding bicycles are subject to the provisions of this code specified in Sections 21200 and 21200.5. []
  3. The Vehicle Code defines “highway” as: “a way or place of whatever nature, publicly maintained and open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel.  Highway includes street.”  California Vehicle Code Section 360 — “Highway” is a way or place of whatever nature, publicly maintained and open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel. Highway includes street. []
  4. The use of any drug (the law does not distinguish between prescription, over-the-counter, or illegal drugs) which impairs your ability to drive safely is illegal.  Many drugs have unexpected side effects when taken with alcohol. []
  5. California Vehicle Code Section Vehicle Code Section 23152(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.” []
  6. California Vehicle Code Section 21200(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…” []

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