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Washington State Law Permits Bicycling Under the Influence, by David Brown

When you work in the field of personal injury law, you see enough lives ruined by drunk drivers to thoroughly detest the idea of a motorist consuming any amount of alcohol and getting behind the wheel.  However, the reality is that drinking is a social activity for many people, and to participate in it requires some amount of mobility.  Unfortunately, too often automobiles supply this mobility.

However, where we practice in Washington State, we have a better solution.  Ride your bike.  Washington law explicitly permits cycling under the influence.    

Under Washington State law, bicycles are treated exactly like regular vehicles when the biker is riding on the roadways (bicycles are treated like pedestrians when the biker is riding on the sidewalk). However, if the bike rider is drunk, even if the rider is riding on the roadway, Washington law prohibits charging the cyclist with Driving Under the Influence (DUI).

So, you are probably wondering what does happen if a drunk bike rider is contacted by a police officer. As described in RCW 46.61.790 (go to http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=46.61.790 to read the statute), if a law enforcement officer spots a drunk biker, the legal protocol is:

· A law enforcement officer may offer to transport a bicycle rider who appears to be under the influence of alcohol or any drug and who is walking or moving along or within the right-of-way of a public roadway;

· The officer may release the intoxicated bicycle rider to a competent person;

· The law enforcement officer shall not provide the assistance offered if the bicycle rider refuses to accept it;

· No suit or action may be brought against the law enforcement officer, law enforcement agency, the state of Washington, or any political subdivision of the state resulting from the refusal of the bicycle rider to accept this assistance;

· The law enforcement officer may impound the bicycle operated by an intoxicated bicycle rider if the officer determines that impoundment is necessary to reduce a threat to public safety, and there are no reasonable alternatives to impoundment. The bicycle must be returned without payment of a fee.

So, there you go Washingtonians.  The next time you are going out with friends for drinks, bring your bike.  You avoid risking the lives of those around you, you avoid the risk of ending up in jail, you avoid the potential of paying thousands of dollars in fines, and you just might get a free ride home from a police officer grateful that you are not behind the wheel of a car.  If this isn’t the law in your state, consider bringing this statute to the attention of your state legislature.

- David Brown

If you have been injured in a bike or car crash and are looking for information about your rights and options, contact the Brett Murphy injury attorneys today by calling 1-800-925-1875 or by completing our confidential contact form.