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.

  • Tom

    This is an incredibly irresposible article. The main “quick tip” you should have offered is “don’t do it”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mjbackus Michael Backus

    Great article. A local habitual DUI offender made the paper recently here in Western Oregon for riding his electric bicycle with a suspended driver’s license. The reasoning of the officer who cited him is a good guideline of how to stay out of trouble with John Law. Here’s a link to the article: http://projects.registerguard.com/web/newslocalnews/26435370-41/mcclain-vehicle-strickland-bicycle-electric.html.csp

    • spinningmagnets

      Thanks for the link, Michael. When my son was 18, he got his license suspended for a year due to several speeding tickets, and this is what first got me to research gasoline and electric kits for bikes. I highly recommend for anyone who has a suspended license, to get an electric kit that attaches to a vehicle that is clearly a bicycle. The gasoline “chainsaw” kits have a better purchase price, hill-climbing, and range, but…they are noisy and draw the attention of the police. If you keep your top-speed reasonable, ride safely, and pedal most of the ride…you will avoid the hassle of arguing with police and judges about the technicalities of a vehicle that “looks like” a scooter, but has pedals attached. Our view on this is that even if you are technically right…lawyers are expensive, and spending time in court on a regular basis is a waste of our time.

  • Real Talk

    I have a friend who broke his back after being hit by a drunk rider in
    golden gate park. He subsequently lost his job, his home, his cat, and
    now he lives with his brother who is caring for him. Even at 16mph there
    is a 10% chance of causing serious injury. At 23mph its 25%. Who cares about the legality.

  • John

    This ad explains a lot of why I had to convert to an electric bike to keep my job, and be able to get around town because I was a victim of drinking and driving. I’ve been cruising around now for a year on my Ampedbikes conversion kit and it saves me a lot of traffic frustration and I’m not putting my life or others at risk as I did in the past when I would drink and drive. Good stuff here!!

    • B

      “a victim” .. lol

  • Johny

    As far as I know you cannot even walk if you are UI (WUI) So bikes or not doesn’t matter you are still a danger to society.

  • macduggles

    What about Florida? Seems similar to Texas, but if you need a drivers license and are stopped – will it mean an arrest and jail?

    • ElectricBIke

      i never heard of anyone going to jail for riding an ebike. I really doubt anyone will give you a second look riding around on an ebike as long as it looks like a bicycyle and you ride sensibly.

  • john smith

    thanks to the internet

    but i have you know i was in the road

    i won becouse i lied and said i was in the sidewalk

    next time i will be in the sidewalk

    if a man or a woman is walking in the road even walking can get a dui your in the road

    stay on the sidewalk law

    and get legal drunk

    if it is legal then what is your problem