Electric Bikes and DUI

November 21, 2012

By federal law, you do not need a drivers license to ride an electric bike.  Electric bikes have always been a safe haven  for someone who has lost their drivers license to a DUI.  With an electric bike you can still commute to work, school or  a girl friends house even though you have lost your license. Suave electric bike dealers cater to the “just lost your license” bunch right after the holidays.  If you have lost your license to a DUI or some other reason, consider an electric bike, and do not risk your freedom by driving a car around with a suspended license. If you are a habitual drinker and driver, you are risking live and limb of not only yourself but those around you and you should consider an electric bike as an alternative. See the following video for some extreme examples:

So  what about riding an electric bike drunk? Is it the same legally as driving a 3 ton truck drunk?  Although this subject seems taboo (it is never considered socially correct to drive any vehicle while intoxicated) while breezing through  a DUI checkpoint on my electric bike this Thanksgiving (thank heavens I was on an electric bike) , I pondered this exact question. I was able to fly past all the cars stuck in the traffic, and past the line of cops without even  a glance. But if I had a few drinks did I have anything to worry about?  Can you get a DUI on a bicycle?

It depends. Laws vary by State and sometimes by municipality as regards riding a bike while impaired. California, for instance, has a separate set of statues for bikes as they don’t qualify as “vehicles” under California Law.  Drinking and riding in California should just be a ticket that does not effect your driving record (as opposed to the get-arrested wreck-life of a DUI) In some states, like Washington, where there is no specific statute it has been found that bikes don’t constitute “motor vehicles” for purposes of DUI enforcement.  As a practical matter, even where there is no specific statute, the laws against public intoxication and breach of peace would probably cover most instances of drunk biking. Again way better for you than a DUI.  Expect leniency if you are caught on a bicycle while riding impaired.

No matter where you live, keep in mind that according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nearly 25 percent of cycling deaths involve a rider who was intoxicated. To reduce your risk—legal and otherwise—consider bar-hopping on foot or by public transportation. (read study)

That being said, unlike when you drive a car drunk, riding a bicycle drunk the rider is generally only endangering himself.  Their have been very few cases of drunk bicyclists causing serious injuries to others.

Traditionally bicyclists have been treated with leniency by police officers when it comes to BWI.  A drunk at the handlebars of a bicycle is much better than a drunk at the wheel of a car.  No matter what the laws in your state if you ride by a cop on a bicycle you are much less likely to get  DUI checked. And if you are checked and caught you should get leniency from the cop or the judge based on the fact you are not risking anyone else.

However when your bike is electric powered  you are definitely in a gray area.  This will also become more gray if the bike is fast or looks fast. The officer might decide that your bike is indeed a motor vehicle and you can get arrested and charged same as driving a car. Even though  under federal law your electric bike counts as a bicycle and not a “motor vehicle”, if you do get arrested this is  something you will have to argue in front of a judge, and depending on the situation you were caught in (riding too fast, riding really drunk, riding on sidewalk, riding on a ridiculous looking ebike,  etc) you might find the deck stacked against you. Read this case file where a judge decided that an electric bike does not count as a bicycle (where he would have been safe from a DUI) and hit the rider with a full DUI.

Here are some examples of electric bikes you would not want to get caught on driving drunk. Remember a good rule of thumb when it comes to electric bikes –   illegal is what will get you pulled over on when you ride past a cop.

The Scooter Electric Bike

 Looks like an electric scooter with pedals. If it looks like it needs to have a license plate and tags expect trouble.


Hanebrink Hustler X5

If you get pulled over on one of these babies  good luck to you (read on the Hanebrink x5) . You look like you are riding on a motorcycle and you will probably be treated as such, even if you argue it has pedals under the fairings. (it does). Look at our list of 10 fastest production bikes and ask yourself which of those you would get pulled over on. Let common sense lead you, and you will probably get pulled over on 8 of the 10 bikes.

Author on a Hanebrink Hustler X5

The electric bike Hot Rod

 If your electric bike looks like it belongs on a racetrack,  and looks heavy and dangerous,  you might find yourself in a jail cell. See a list of the 10 fastest electric bikes in the world to see 10 examples of what you would not want to ride drunk on.


Read our complete article on Electric Bikes and the law.

Keep in mind an electric bike is different than a regular bicycle in three major ways:

1. An electric bike is heavier and will cause more damage if you happen to strike a pedestrian.

2. An electric bike is faster, so you are risking you own saftey much more than on a regular bike.

3. As an electric bike rider, you do not have a powerful coalition behind you as a bicycle rider does. As an ebiker,  you are a rare bird  and you basically stand alone.

Use a lot of common sense if you decide to drink and ride, and as always, it is advised you walk or take a bus over driving any vehicle when intoxicated.

Here are some quick tips for those who decide to drink and ride instead of driving a car.

  1. Wear a helmet.
  2. Obey all traffic laws.
  3. Do not ride fast!
  4. Pedal your  bike, and make it seem as normal as possible, especially if riding past a DUI checkpoint (on the sidewalk)
  5.  Stay off main roads.
  6. Do not pack your drivers license, or keep it hidden. A bicyclist is not required to carry a drivers license.
  7.  Ride with a bike light if riding at night.
  8. Consider riding slowly on the sidewalk if on busy street and sidewalk is empty.
  9. If pulled over be polite (watch this video on how not to get beat up by police).
  10. If in doubt, lock your bike and take a cab or bus

Eric has been involved in the electric bike industry since 2002 when he started a 6000 square foot brick and mortar Electric Bike store in downtown San Francisco. He is a true believer that small electric vehicles can change the way we operate and the way we think.


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