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Drunk biking: No big deal, or time to get real?

Posted by on December 8th, 2010 at 1:52 pm

“Alcohol use leads to a host of unsafe bicycling practices, increased head and brain injuries, and costs to the cyclist and community.”
— From the conclusion of a January 2010 study published in American Journal of Emergency Medicine

A story reported by the Associated Press today underscores an issue I’ve had in my story queue for a long time: bicycling under the influence.

The story was about an Oregon Court of Appeals ruling that said a citation for bicycling while intoxicated still counts toward the “three strikes” rule. The court ruled that the state could revoke the driver’s license of a man who was guilty of biking drunk in 2008, even though a driver’s license isn’t required for operating a bicycle.

Like it or not, BUI comes with the same consequences as DUI. However, unlike DUI, drunk biking has nowhere near the cultural awareness drunk driving has. As more people use bikes to get around, is it time to up our awareness and education around this issue?

Mara Woloshin, a public relations professional based in Portland is researching the topic of pedaling under the influence. Back in August, she launched a campaign to raise awareness of the issue on behalf of local lawyer (and her client) Adam Greenman, who specializes in DUII and traffic crimes. Woloshin points to what she sees as an increase in fatal bike crashes in Oregon that involve alchohol as a sign that more people need to be aware of the dangers — and the consequences — of biking under the influence.

Fresh Hop Century-5.jpg

(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Greenman reminds his clients (and prospective clients) that a conviction for pedaling under the influence carries the same fines and charges whether you’re operating a vehicle with or without a motor. “But it’s worse than that,” Greenman says, “because the danger of serious physical injury is much greater for a cyclist than for a driver behind the wheel.”

Biketobeerfest at Hopworks -37

Woloshin’s firm sent out a press release about pedaling under the influence that specifically cited “several cycling websites packed with information, and listing dozens of cyclist-friendly watering holes where cyclists can park, drink, and swap stories.” The release went on to say:

“A drive past one of these Portland locations on a warm summer night demonstrates their incredible popularity with bike racks overflowing, and a cycling crowd that often spills onto the sidewalk. Good clean fun? Not always.”

A 2010 study published in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine backs up Woloshin and Greenman’s claims. Alcohol, bicycling, and head and brain injury: a study of impaired cyclists’ riding patterns, found that among the 200 patients studied “Alcohol use showed a strong correlation with head injury” and that, “Impaired riders were less experienced, less likely to have medical insurance, rarely wore helmets, were more likely to ride at night and in slower speed zones such as city streets, and their hospital charges were double.” Here’s the study’s conclusion:

“Alcohol use leads to a host of unsafe bicycling practices, increased head and brain injuries, and costs to the cyclist and community. The interrelated characteristics of the riding patterns of the cyclists who use alcohol might help target interventions.”

Woloshin says her interest in this topic goes beyond her PR work. “I will continue to try to build awareness about this because cycling is part of our Pacific Northwest lifestyle. I question why there is a PUI law on the books — yet most folks are not informed and don’t know about it. With bike clubs meeting at bars, law enforcement now has a rich resource for citations, fines, arrests, which generate money and can be devastating to citizens.”

Madsen beer bucket-1

Beer on ice at a recent
BikePortland meeting.

According to the Portland Police Bureau Traffic Division, there have been 14 fatal bike crashes in Portland since 2005. Of those, the person on the bike was found to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol six times (and the bike operator was deemed at fault in three of those).

To say biking and drinking are closely intertwined here in Portland is a major understatement. From the Hopworks Beer Bike and beer hand-ups at local cyclocross races to beer stops on group rides and pub crawls — beer consumption is a pillar of the local bike culture. Have we gone too far? Is it time for a wake-up call on this issue? Should advocacy groups and transportation agencies do more to spread awareness about the consequences of drunk biking?

I would love to know what you think.

[NOTE: This article was originally published with a photo of a Team Beer jersey and a reference to them as well. Team Beer is a local bike club/team that I felt was a helpful illustration of how closely intertwined beer and bicycling has become in Portland. However, after I read comments and emails from several Team Beer members (and friends) who felt their association to this story was misleading, I decided to delete any mention of Team Beer from this article. Thanks for the feedback.]

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Esther
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Esther

To paraphrase an old joke by Drew Carey: There’s a DriveToBeerFest every night, and it meets at the bar.
The issues here are much bigger issues of addiction and substance (in this case, alcohol) abuse in our culture. I have witnessed plenty of dangerous behavior by people who were BUI, but then again I have also witnessed plenty of dangerous behavior by people who were just walking around drunk.
I do believe that people need to be aware that they are operating a vehicle in roadways with dangerous vehicles when they’re BUI…of course, alcohol impairs judgment, which makes that difficult. However, I still think the dangers are far far less than they would be if those people were driving instead.

Charlie
Guest
Charlie

What’s missing from the discussion is that while bicycling drunk poses a bigger risk to an individual vs drunk driving, it poses far LESS of a risk to others on the road. If a drunk bicyclist crashes, he/she is certainly not going to injure someone else as much as if he/she were driving.

It seems to me that one of the primary reasons why penalties for drunk driving are so high are because of the risk posed to others on the road. Since bicycling drunk doesn’t pose nearly a much risk to others, in my opinion the penalties should be much less as well.

fool
Guest
fool

well said, this precisely mirrors my thoughts.

Max
Guest
Max

My thoughts exactly. I find it rather ridiculous that you could have your driver’s license suspended, when you’re not required to even have one!

BB
Guest
BB

The country is broke, and safety nannies want introduce more debt and use resources we don’t have.

Did I miss it? Again?
Guest
Did I miss it? Again?

Charlie-
Perhaps it is missing because it is not the topic at hand; the scope of the study was not driving drunk v. riding drunk,it is narrowed to drinking and riding.

If one were to create a study of airline incidents due to intoxicated pilots, should the first response be pointing out that flying while drunk poses less risk than drinking and driving?

At what point do we recognize that regardless of means of transportation, if you are driving/riding/flying/skippering while intoxicated, you are increasing the risk to yourself (acceptable), but also to other people (which is not acceptable).

I know this is also a hot button, but being that cyclists are not required to be insured, why should the motorist or pedestrian be held financially reponsible for damages caused by an intoxicated cyclist? Please do not answer “Because it is safer than driving drunk.”

There are vulnerable road users in this situation and they are (most likely) those who are not intoxicated.

oboe
Guest
oboe

Better yet, if the issue was whether we should give the same penalties to drunken passengers as we do to drunken airline pilots. After all, while inebriated airline pilots pose a *massively* greater danger to themselves and everyone else, inebriated passengers have a much higher incidence of injury, liver disease, and violent outbursts.

Ergo, the penalties should be the same.

And yes, both the BUI arguments, and the above hypothetical are equally f-ing stupid.

Joe
Guest
Joe

If I ever got a BUI, my statement to the judge would be this. “Your honor, I was trying to do the right thing by choosing to ride my bike to the bar that night. The message you are sending is that I might as well have gotten in my car and put others at risk.”

Paul Johnson
Guest
Paul Johnson

Please get a BUI, I’ll fly back to Portland just to watch the judge laugh at you for not making responsible transportation arrangements.

RWL1776
Guest
RWL1776

Imagine YOU are the driver of a car, and a drunken cyclists swerves in front of YOU, and they are killed by the impact of your vehicle. Now YOU are going to remember that instant for the rest of your life, and it was THEIR actions that have ruined your life, and taken theirs. Just putting this hypothetical situation out there for discussion. How would you deal with that flashback for the rest of your life?

If you are operating a transportation vehicle on the road, the laws should apply equally to everyone.

Jackattak
Guest
Jackattak

Couldn’t have put it better myself. Well said.

Bryan
Guest
Bryan

Drunk biking by itself isn’t a good thing, but when you consider it as a replacement for drunk driving, it is a vast vast improvement.

Given a choice between sharing the road with drunk bikers or drunk drivers, I would pick the bikers every time.

Paul Johnson
Guest
Paul Johnson

Tell that to the toddler that was killed a few years ago by a drunk driver on a bicycle at the Rose Quarter.

Schrauf
Guest
Schrauf

What’s your point? There are exceptions to every “rule”. If you could choose to be hit by an average driver or an average biker, which would you choose, taking into account average speed, mass, vehicle structure, etc.

Paul Johnson
Guest
Paul Johnson

I prefer all drivers, motorized or not, to be sober.

eric
Guest
eric

Tell that to the toddler who was killed by an elderly man who had an episode just recently at lombard street and interstate. We need to start a public relations campaign about the dangers of mixing old age and vehicle operation.

Paul Johnson
Guest
Paul Johnson

For a long time now, I’ve advocated mandatory retesting instead of automatic renewals, and much shorter terms, for driver’s licensing. Stupidity knows no age, and the rules of the road change enough over time to necessitate reprinting the driver’s manual at least once every other year as it is. Even though you’re already expected to keep up on this information as a driver, most people don’t unless there’s a barrier to continue driving without doing so.

k.
Guest
k.

This is my only worry about cracking down on drunk cycling; that it will inhibit people from seeing it as an alternative to drunk driving. While neither on is good, drunks on bikes are exponentially more benign than drunks in cars. If someone’s determined to go to the bar and drink (and many are) I’d much rather they take their bike then their car.

Paul Johnson
Guest
Paul Johnson

This is a good thing, though. You don’t need to be operating any vehicle while drunk. I find it unbelievable that people are looking at drunk driving and drunk cycling and comparing which is worse based on severity of the injury, given the odds are essentially the same. Getting hospitalized because of someone else’s stupidity is very likely a ruinous event given the expense of privatized healthcare.

BURR
Guest
BURR

This is not universal, it is on a state-by-state basis

Paul Johnson
Guest
Paul Johnson

The only state that doesn’t prohibit drunk driving on a bicycle is Minnesota.

Schrauf
Guest
Schrauf

Wrong. Washington is another.

Paul Johnson
Guest
Paul Johnson

Last I checked, bicyclists in Washington are bound to the same rules of the road as motorists (as is the case in most states). You can’t drive drunk in Washington, unless something’s changed since October.

matthew vilhauer
Guest
matthew vilhauer

paul-you are incorrect. i spoke with a vancouver police officer personally on this matter last friday. he strongly suggested if someone has been drinking to not ride but the law does in fact allow people to do so in washington.

Opus the Poet
Guest

New York also doesn’t prohibit drinking and riding a bicycle, and drunk cycling arrests (actually those would be public intoxication) can’t be used against you as previous DUI any more than any other public intoxication charge could be.

Peter
Guest
Peter

BUI is the lesser of two evils by far. Much less chance of hurting an innocent bystander. Wear a helmet, use a light, and don’t try to hold a beer at the same time.

BURR
Guest
BURR

The point of DUI laws is to prevent harm to others, and you can do a lot more harm to others with a motor vehicle than you can with a bicycle.

So, for the same reasons cyclists should not be paying the same traffic fines motorists do, they should not be subject to the same DUI laws.

If you cycle drunk and fall off your bike and hurt yourself, you have caused harm to no one but yourself.

Matthew
Guest
Matthew

Sure, because no one in a car has ever swerved to avoid someone on a bike and then hurt themselves / someone else.

This is really even a debate? Good lord.

Spiffy
Guest
Spiffy

that’s called a poor reaction… you don’t take evasive actions if those actions will result in further incidents… if people keep avoiding bad drivers then they’ll continue to drive badly…

BB
Guest
BB

Yes but they broke the law also. You are supposed to be in control of your car a all times.

Jake
Guest

Re: Matthew,
With this logic drunk walking should be outlawed as well. Would you go that far?

April
Guest
April

I’ve heard that walking while drunk is more dangerous (to the drunk person) than biking or driving, but that’s probably per mile traveled.

matt
Guest
matt

It might not be this way in Oregon, but walking drunk in California can certainly land you a night in Jail with upwards of $500 in fines–we call it Drunk In Public.

Paul Johnson
Guest
Paul Johnson

We already knew California was ass-backwards, though.

lisa
Guest
lisa

I agree with Charlie. The distinction between threat posed to ones self and threat posed to others is key.

A DUI person on bike poses a much smaller threat than does a DUI person driving car.

This distinction is hardly ever made in the case of stop sign / red light running as well. A person running a stop sign on a bike is NOT the same as a person driving car running a stop sign / red light.

Dave
Guest

I would think that perhaps a law which gives a penalty that is non-car-related might be a good idea, as there are an increasing number of people who don’t own a car – maybe a fine or something. I’m not advocating riding drunk, but to me personally, not being able to drive would certainly not be a hardship.

I’m kind of on the fence about how much this needs to be regulated and made a huge deal of, since, as with wearing a helmet, the person most likely to get injured by this behavior is the person engaging in the behavior. Yeah, it might be stupid to ride a bike while drunk, but you’re still not that likely to do anything more than hurt yourself.

The reason we make such a big deal about drunk driving, is that driving a car recklessly, you can easily kill other people (and I’m not so sure about the statement that the driver of a car who is driving drunk is safer than the person riding a bicycle drunk – that’s a pretty broad statement, and a lot of factors play into that).

It’s more dangerous to a person to walk around the streets drunk too, but we aren’t cracking down on them because they increase their chance of getting injured.

Also, just because a lot of activities include beer in Portland doesn’t necessarily mean that all the people drinking it are getting drunk. I love beer, and I really enjoy drinking it, but I rarely have more than 1 or 2 at a time, and rarely without food. I don’t think the association of beer with biking activities in Portland is necessarily a bad thing, people just have to be responsible about it.

So yeah, I think it’s good to discourage riding drunk, and even have a law on the books that defines some reasonable penalty for it and make people aware of that, but don’t go too over the top gung ho about it. Just my opinion.

Mork
Guest
Mork

When we imbibe, we do it close to home, in moderation (usually) and typically via pedal power. There are rare occasions when we “get” to walk our bikes home or leave the bike at the bar and take the bus.

I get uncomfortable when I realize a friend has driven to a bar for the exact reasons highlighted by Esther and Charlie: I may be more likely to hurt myself if I ride home after a few, but the rest of my community benefits because I’m moving slow and have a tiny amount of mass so any potential impact is going to be negligible compared to a similar situation with a buzzed automobile driver.

I think this article does a tiny bit of scare-mongering on the DUII front. If I remember correctly from a recent alt-weekly’s report, for every 1000 or so DUII’s issued to auto drivers in the area only 1 or 2 are issued to cyclists. I understand it’s a risk we take, but without an actual step up in enforcement, it’s a small one.

matt picio
Guest

This is already a serious issue to those who are directly affected: (i.e. those who get drunk and then bike) other than that, this is currently a very minor issue. Drunk cyclists are very unlikely to harm anyone other than themselves. In terms of the cost borne by family members, obesity, heart disease and diabetes are more more damaging than drunk cycling. For that matter, the cycling portion is far less damaging than the underlying alcoholism. The point of DUII laws is to prevent people on the road from killing others, not themselves. In this respect, DUII for cyclists has nearly no benefit. To combat drunk cycling (and alcoholism), recognition and treatment of the underlying issues needs to happen.

I find it interesting that in the fatal incidents involving drunk cyclists, only 50% were the cyclist’s fault. Clearly while this is a problem and should be addressed, there are other factors which are equally as deadly and should also be investigated and addressed.

Allan
Guest
Allan

To quote the book “Superfreakonomics”, walking drunk is 8x more dangerous than driving drunk per mile. I would be interested to know how biking stacks up. The data is out there.

Julian
Guest

Per mile wouldn’t be the exposure criteria I’d choose. Try per trip.

bikieboy
Guest
bikieboy

or length (time) of exposure.

Allan
Guest
Allan

but your trip is presumably a fixed length- ie from bar X to your crib. So lets consider what transit mode you want to use for that trip and per mile will be most accurate in assessing your danger on the equivalent trip.

Paul Johnson
Guest
Paul Johnson

That doesn’t wash. The overwhelming majority bicycle and car accidents happen within 5 miles of home for at least one of the parties involved.

Dave
Guest

Regarding the statement that a drunk driver is less danger to themselves than a drunk bicyclist – this depends quite a bit on the type of car, the type of bicycle, and the manner in which each are operating them. I would tend to ride even more slowly and carefully if I was feeling tipsy, and so if I fell over, I’d be pretty unlikely to seriously injure myself, riding upright, I’m not likely to do anything more than scrape my hands or elbows up, unless there were outside factors playing into it (like getting hit by a car because my reaction time wasn’t fast enough).

Driving drunk at 40mph poses plenty of risk to the driver – (think freeway medians, bridge supports, other cars, etc).

Allan
Guest
Allan

The highways and roads are set up so that most of these dangers are mitigated by water barrels, angled guardrails, etc. You don’t see head on obstacles very often on our major roadways

Paul Johnson
Guest
Paul Johnson

There’s still a few streets with unpulled stumps in them in Portland…

BURR
Guest
BURR

Let’s give the PPB yet another reason to single out and persecute cyclists, great idea!.

But I’ve just got to ask, where the heck is PPB every morning at 2AM when the bars let out a whole bunch of drunks who mostly drive home?

ron
Guest
ron

Bravo! Until they (PPB) start addressing speeding, hit-and-run incidents and drunk driving, I have a hard time getting on this bandwagon. It my math is correct, if there were 6 cycling deaths in Oregon over the past 5 years related to alcohol/drugs, or 1.2 per year. Multiply that by 50 states, you have 60 deaths per year nationwide. There are 25,000 drunk driving deaths in the US each year. I wonder why we keep trying to think of new things to fix when there are old thing we haven’t fixed? Geez, so many do-gooders with new causes…

matt picio
Guest

Doing their jobs – responding to calls and writing tickets. There are only about 500 officers in the city, which is ~150 per shift. There are a few HUNDRED miles of streets in the city, leaving an average of one officer per multiple miles of street. And that’s assuming only one unit responds to a particular incident. A single robbery in progress might tie up 6 units while they secure the area and hunt for the guy.

Brad
Guest
Brad

Jake – there are public intoxication laws that cover pedestrians. If a cop sees you weaving about while ambulating then he can cite and/or arrest you.

The bottom line is that we should have omnibus laws that prohibit any usage of public thoroughfares while impaired or intoxicated. It’s a basic public safety issue. We can debate penalties but being drunk, while sometimes fun or funny, is irresponsible and can lead to horrible consequences.

Duncan
Guest
Duncan

I think this is the scariest thing I have read in a while. Sounds Orwellian, or maybe Utah-like.

Paul Johnson
Guest
Paul Johnson

It’s pretty common in the US, though Oregon doesn’t have public intoxication on the books. Oklahoma does, so I’m not quite sure how that works out if I decide to walk home from the bar across the street after a couple drinks. Even then, there’s a question of jurisdiction where I am: Does Oklahoma’s law apply (which has public intoxication on the books) or the Muskovee Nation (which, as far as I’m aware, doesn’t)?

Matthew
Guest
Matthew

@ Jake – Public intoxication IS a crime.

@ everyone else – Are you forgetting that people on bikes can just as easily run over people walking as people in cars can run over people on bikes? Maybe the risk of instant death is less, but that doesn’t make it any more acceptable or forgivable.

I’m not saying there should be special laws for drunken cyclists, I’m just saying the same laws that apply to people in cars should continue to apply to people on bikes.

Jacob
Guest
Jacob

Ride bike to bar, get drunk, push bike home. WIN
Drive car to bar, get drunk, push car home? FAIL

matt picio
Guest

I think that illustrates the real issue with biking drunk – it’s not being on the bike, it’s speed and reaction time. A drunk pedestrian can be killed the same as a drunk cyclist.

If we want to stop drunk travel, then bars need beds, or some other solution to keep people from leaving until they’ve sobered up. (or Tri-Met needs to be 24hr)

Spiffy
Guest
Spiffy

gone are the days of the inn keeper…

Paul Johnson
Guest
Paul Johnson

It’s called a “public house.” I wonder why bars are able to call themselves that without actually being a public house without getting nailed by false advertising laws.

Joe
Guest
Joe

I’m with BURR on this one, good point. but this law worries me, If I’m riding home and a cop thinks I’m drunk just might be a good target for him to pull me over, beer on breath.. tons of drivers use back roads here to get home after 2am. * I jumped on MAX after Alefest with my bike, but downtown PDX is tricky with cars at night and riding. almost got hit 3 times, just getting to MAX. awareness can saves lifes

Clarence Darrow
Guest
Clarence Darrow

It’s not an issue of being responsible for your actions. Get drunk in public and pay the price. But as a cyclist should that price include points against your drivers license? A license to drive a motor vehicle and not required to operate a bicycle on public streets.

That’s the question and one that gets to the constitutional right to equal treatment under the law.

If I don’t have a drivers license and get caught for BUI, what punishment do I get? Fines etc, but they can’t take away a license I don’t have. Why should you receive extra punishment because you have a license.

That’s why I use a state id card when bike riding and not a DL.

BURR
Guest
BURR

AFAIK, if you get a ticket for running a stop sign on your bike, it doesn’t go on your driving record; so why should a BUI go on your driving record?

Barron
Guest
Barron

There’s a big difference between riding under the influence and riding drunk. Also, BAC of 0.08 is a DUI but I don’t think it should be that low for a BUI.

Matthew
Guest
Matthew

And Jacob wins the comment thread. 😀

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

The ‘drunks on bikes aren’t as bad as drunks driving cars’ argument is one of relative threats, not responsible use of the road. Little if any respect is due efforts made to get responsible road users to find as acceptable, drunk bike riders use of the road.

If alcohol could be formulated so that when excessively consumed, people’s skin and clothing would change to a bright, flashing, reflective day-glo orange or hi-vis green, that could help lessen the dangers of drunk biking, but it wouldn’t probably be a very popular measure.

matt picio
Guest

Now you’ve gotten to the core arguments about the “nanny” state. What is the purpose of the law? Is it punishing the offenders? Or reducing the number of victims? If it’s the former, then by all means, let’s go after drunk cyclists, because I don’t think anyone can seriously argue that biking drunk is not against the current law. But if we want the result to be fewer deaths and injuries, then why shouldn’t we focus efforts on the modes causing the deaths and injuries, and shift priorities as the cause of deaths changes? (i.e. when we reduce car drunk deaths low enough, bikes will start to be the #1 factor, and we can switch enforcement then)

We as a society seem to put an emphasis on “fairness”, which seems to be defined as “if I’m getting screwed, you should be too – we should all be equally inconvenienced if I HAVE to be”. If we want actual results, perhaps we should be looking at which laws should be enforced, or figure out ways to step up enforcement of all laws (I’m going to go on a limb here and guess that most of us commentors don’t want MORE police and MORE laws, but I’m sure some of us would be ok with that)

Spiffy
Guest
Spiffy

YES! they need to stop going out of the way to enforce non-issues… every time I see a cop sitting on the side of the road with a radar gun I see many people failing to signal and following too close right in front of them but they never get in the car to go after those people, they just wait for the offense they want to come driving their way…

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

“… What is the purpose of the law? …” matt picio

I’ll have to admit, I never have had quite so much inspiration to think about what the purpose of BUI laws are before reading of them here at bikeportland. I think there’s certainly more than one purpose of the law. Obviously, through the law, the public seeks to reduce death and injury to road users by way of people operating vehicles on the road while drunk (pedestrians are often also road users and as such are obligated to not walk along or across a road drunk.).

But also, it seems to me that what the law works to do, is make the roads a less stressful, more efficient means to travel by. Even though alert, responsible road users may be able to avoid colliding with an under the influence vehicle operator, or even a pedestrian that enters the roadway, just the added stress and distraction of having to keep an eye out for them detracts from the useful function of the public’s roads.

Penalties for road violations and offenses should not be used to fuel antagonism amongst people whose vehicles are of different modes. The message of ‘under the influence’ laws is simple: ‘Don’t operate a vehicle while drunk…if you do…the public is going to do its level best to discourage you from doing so in future’.

resopmok
Guest
resopmok

I thought the point of civilization and government and laws and all that was to provide a venue of mass social contact that prevents outright chaos due to the wide variety of opinions about how that society is run. Be it some form of dictatorship or democracy, order is maintained by employees of their government who are generally armed. We can easily argue about what is orderly behavior and what isn’t, and what freedoms members of the society should have, but the general idea is to act in a civil manner. I believe it logically follows that in many cases, the penalty for commission of a crime should be based on how dangerous or potentially dangerous it is to the population in general. And this seems to be the case for the most part for the society we live in, so I am not entirely disappointed humanity.

I believe like so many of the voices I have already read above, that the potential danger to others represented by a drunk bicyclist is far less than that of a drunk driver. Under the current law and court interpretations, it would seem we are equally as screwed as drivers, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we _should_ be.

Bill
Guest
Bill

I think the BUI law protects victims, both real and potential, as well as connects an individual’s actions with the full impact those actions have on society. Starting with the victims, this certainly includes the biker’s protection being taken into consideration much like the seatbelt law considers the driver’s protection. However rarely does an accident involve just an individual. There are the traumatic experiences for witnesses, others physically involved, family and friends rushing to the hospital, etc that are very hard to quantify or qualify but must be taken into consideration as well as physical damages. Laws must take this all in when setting sentences and often remind individuals that our actions rarely have individual results and we must be aware of those connections. That is why I think answers should go to both or your questions.

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

There is an easy question that can tell us if drinking before you bike is the same as drinking before you drive. An intoxicated cyclist and motorist are coming right at you, you can only dodge one, do you want to be hit by the bike or the car?
Setting aside the fact that a drunk cyclist is unlikely to be going more than 10-15 miles an hour even downhill the overall danger of an intoxicated cyclist is clearly orders of magnitude lower than that of the intoxicated driver. Maybe they should both be illegal, but the legal limit for cyclists should be higher because slower speeds mean more time to react, and the penalty should be far lower since the risk to others in miniscule. Washington recognizes this, why won’t Oregon.

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

“… An intoxicated cyclist and motorist are coming right at you, you can only dodge one, do you want to be hit by the bike or the car? …” Bjorn December 8, 2010 at 2:48 pm

My easy answer, is that I don’t want to bit hit by, or hit either one. People enjoying use of the road by accepting the responsibilities that go along with that use have a certain right to expect that the roads will be reasonably safe. As far as I know, people incapacitated by alcohol and drugs have no right to use of the road, and their presence on the road at any given time is detracting from the reasonable level of safety every responsible road user contributes to.

There’s little if any strength in the idea that penalties for BUI should be reduced from that assigned to DUI, simply because the physical properties of a drunk on a bike can in some respects cause less damage than a drunk in a car. Neither drunks on bikes or drunks driving cars should on the road…period.

One argument favoring reduced penalties for BUI that has a little strength, is that equal penalties for BUI and DUI might mean that a drunk might say to themselves ‘Aw what the heck…if I’m caught, it’s gonna cost me as much whether I’m driving or riding the bike. Might as well be comfortable and safe in the car.’ . I don’t see that argument being very strong though.

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

If the person chooses to walk he could bump into you, harm reduction is a legitimate strategy and saying that drunk biking and drunk driving present similar dangers is ridiculous. Until all bars are required to have sleeping quarters people have to get around somehow, and our bus system is so underfunded that it is nearly unusable after 11pm. I’ll take people riding bikes over driving any day.

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

“… saying that drunk biking and drunk driving present similar dangers is ridiculous. …” Bjorn

You can check my remarks, but I don’t think I did say or otherwise imply that drunk biking and drunk driving present similar dangers.

What I did say, is that I didn’t think there was a strong argument for reducing the penalty for BUI relative to that of DUI, due to the fact that “… the physical properties of a drunk on a bike can in some respects cause less damage than a drunk in a car. …”. People under the influence shouldn’t be operating vehicles on the road…period.

You’re right about people trying to walk while drunk. They shouldn’t be trying to do that if they’re in a state of intoxication that would prevent them from being able to keep from running into someone or in front of a vehicle and causing a collision to occur. Drinking and being under the influence of…whatever…can be fine, but too many people are way to nonchalant about it.

middle of the road guy
Guest
middle of the road guy

I would say it depends how fast each one is going. I’d rather be hit by a 3mph car than a 20 mph bike.

Uncle Muscles
Guest
Uncle Muscles

Then you don’t understand the basic physics principle of momentum. Mass x Velocity: it’s that simple. Drinking and riding should not be an issue and a BUI should carry nowhere near the same penalty as a DUI. It’s really not that complicated.

Amanda
Guest
Amanda

Just to clear somthing up @Brad and Matthew:

In some states is is illegal to be intoxicated in public. However, In oregon there are no such laws. The police can’t arrest or cite you for mearly being drunk. They can put you on a civil hold and take you to the county drunk tank (the Hooper Center for Portland) where they will keep you safe until you are sobered up. It will never go on your record and it is not a crime.

aaronf
Guest
aaronf

Cyclists should be allowed to do whatever they want. They aren’t hurting anyone. This is America, where I am free to do whatever I want if I’m not hurting anyone. They should make a rule that no matter what a cyclist does, they face 1/8th or 1/16th the penalty of an automobile, because that is how much less they weigh. What cyclists need now is less accountability. Then maybe we can get to 30% of folks riding bikes someday.

I’m surprised Jonathan is taking such a strong stance on this. There’s no question that it’s no Big Deal, and Getting Real is just recognizing that.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Guest

Aaronf,

I wouldn’t equate my story above with “taking such a strong stance” on this. My goal was to bring some attention to the issue and to get a pulse from the community about whether or not it was something that deserved more scrutiny. Thanks.

matt picio
Guest

Matthew
@ everyone else – Are you forgetting that people on bikes can just as easily run over people walking as people in cars can run over people on bikes? Maybe the risk of instant death is less, but that doesn’t make it any more acceptable or forgivable.

No, they can’t. Cars have a much larger impact area, and are far more likely to run a person over than a bicycle is. The risk of impact or injury with a car is far greater, due to higher average speed (2-3x as fast, which is 4-9x the potential for injury) and 10-15x greater mass. Combined, these factors make a car 20-135x more deadly if an impact occurs. The greater surface area makes said impact 4-5x more likely, barring any other complicating factors.

The situations are barely analogous, much less equivalent.

I’m not saying we should ignore the issue, but in the current economy, we need to enforce the laws that have the greatest impact towards reducing injuries & deaths. Bikes killed fewer than 6 in Oregon last year – cars killed nearly 500. Where do you think the focus should be? Is it fair to those who are dying to enforce the laws “equally” against cyclists? How do we explain that to the families of those who died?

peejay
Guest
peejay

Nice catch, Matt. You said what I was thinking.

Math skills, People!

middle of the road guy
Guest
middle of the road guy

Maybe you should also factor in that bikes can operate on mixed us paths and cars cannot….so the sheer number of targets is greater for a bike.

matt picio
Guest

Reverse that – it would be lesser, not greater. There are more pedestrians on the streets and sidewalks than on the MUPs during the “drunk hours” (for this discussion, let’s say 10pm – 3am)

middle of the road guy
Guest
middle of the road guy

I’m factoring in that bikes can use both the road and the MUPs, cars cannot.

matt picio
Guest

It would still be lesser, because there are fewer potential targets on a MUP at 2am than there are on the street/sidewalk. People avoid the MUPs at night due to perceived safety issues – see prior discussions on this site regarding the Springwater for a perfect example.

When I lived in far outer SE, I could ride home after 9pm in late fall and not see a single pedestrian, and only 1 or 2 cyclists (sometimes none). But if I rode Milwaukie Ave and JCB, I’d see a number of both, especially in Westmoreland or near the Fred Meyer at 82nd.

fool
Guest
fool

this is a hard topic to discuss in a public forum, but those are frequently the most important kind of issues to talk frankly about. so, thank you for bringing it up, jonathan.

i think the law (re: DL suspension for 3xBUI) is stupid. but as a non-driver, i’m not particularly affected by it.

as a driver, i drove drunk occasionally. realization of the potential harm to others figured heavily in my decision to go car-free: take away my potential of making choices dangerous to the safety of others. i believe i am a (far) better member of society as a result–i am way less dangerous, even though i frequently drink and bike.

i realize that i am still a risk to others. as a gambling man, i like my current odds a lot better–better enough to sleep just fine at night.

the follow on question i have to ask is:

who gets to choose what is too dangerous? one of my most dangerous bike behaviors has nothing to do with helmets, stop signs, or even cellphone usage while riding. i’m talking about social rides. they are more distracting than heavy drinking to my riding style (which, though reactions are slowed and judgments are suboptimal, falls back to the kind of riding i’d do anyway: helmeted, traffic-law-obeying, and on appropriate lower-traffic bikeways whenever possible).

to be talking with a friend, even in broad daylght and stone cold sober means i am less likely to be paying attention to the road. the same was true of my driving (i never got in a wreck drunk; i did rear end someone and hit a deer while chatting with a pal in the passenger seat, sober.)

in the end, it’s a danger to be born and to survive. the only sure way to get out of the path of trouble is to die–can’t get killed twice (or so i hear). i choose my battles, and i haven’t heard very many reports of drunk bikers causing injury to people other than themselves. if there were a statistically significant incidence of that, i would rethink my behavior.

anyone know where to find that statistic? and how to scale it to match the drunk driving statistics?

Lee
Guest

Come across the river here to Washington, where drinking and biking are legal!

RCW 46.61.790.

Last I checked, we still mostly get run over by cars and still mostly while sober. But we never get harassed for being drunk.

sw resident
Guest
sw resident

Kozmo represent!

Joe
Guest
Joe

I know i’m changing the topic, but after riding today
to a State park, I see more and more beer cans and bottles on the road. Don’t think cyclists are doing this. worries me more these days when I ride alone.
*all on the back roads* ride safe all.

Psyfalcon
Guest
Psyfalcon

I’d think the danger decreases from car, bike, pedestrian, and then of course, to not being drunk in public. The last seems safest to me.

In the 3 strikes case, I do think its appropriate though. While BUI may be safer for the community, it does show a continued (3 strikes) failure to follow the law. For that reason, I really would prefer that person to lose their driving privileges.

I do generally agree that bike offenses should hold lower penalties, but by the time we get to repeat offenders, they are creating a hazard.

Neighbor
Guest

matt picio

Matthew
@ everyone else – Are you forgetting that people on bikes can just as easily run over people walking as people in cars can run over people on bikes?

No, they can’t. … The risk of impact or injury with a car is far greater …

Seriously- then add operating your bike under the influence of alcohol to that and your chances of hitting a skinny target with a skinny bike drops dramatically. It’s tough! People try it all the time! Often with jousting polls on tall bikes!

Operating your bicycle under the influence is a true test of skill with a proud following. And when you fail you can pull yourself off the pavement and limp yourself home.

Operating a car under the influence, on the other hand, requires almost no skill and has significant destructive capabilities. However, if drunk drivers wished to go head to head in car-jousting competitions, I wouldn’t stop them.

Jakob
Guest
Jakob

just drink less & ride more ?
I’m all for riding a bike with plenty of brew in me, but we just need to know our limits
( with alcohol & with cycling )

I guess what I trying to say is , don’t try to race a tri-met bus with a bunch of whiskey & weed in your system.. you may be flattened out.

D.R. Miller
Guest

This makes we wanna ride over to Slim’s for happy hour. Hmm… looks like the rain is setting in again. Maybe I’ll drive instead.

Joe
Guest
Joe

@Neighbor so true.. well said ! I see FOX12 will be running with this today ahh makes me sick..

Ron
Guest
Ron

Howdy–

I recently moved from Utah, where they have the surprising common sense to exclude cyclists from DUI penalties. It seems obvious that the crime isn’t the same on a bicycle.
Still, I was once pulled over on my bike by a county deputy in Utah who threatened me with DUI. We chatted about state code for a bit, and decided we had different interpretations of the law. He suggested that I spend the night in lodging of his choosing, and we let a judge sort out the details. I told him I’d be more than happy to research it myself and get back to him.
He had a sense of humor, and he let me go with a citation for blatantly running a red light. I had a column about cycling in the local paper, so I lived up to my end of the bargain.
In my next column I explored the topic. I was surprised to find that conservative Utah is one of the only states that doesn’t have a specific law addressing BUI, and the state’s DUI law is one of the few places in the vehicle code where it specifies “motor” vehicle instead of just vehicle. The county DA I interviewed agree that it doesn’t apply to bicycles.
Now to the point, finally. When I interviewed our local police chief, he told me, “I think if you’re planning on going out partying, and you might catch a little buzz, a bicycle sounds like a good idea.”
Happy Trails,
Ron Georg
Corvallis

Joe
Guest
Joe

Ron GREAT post man!

Mike Shea
Guest
Mike Shea

Being drunk in public is a crime. Driving while “impaired” is based on blood alcohol content and not on any evidence of actual impairment. The DUI laws got passed because of worries that any impairment of a driver’s ability is dangerous. This is not applicable to bicyclists unless you are hitting 50+mph on you way home and your bicycle weights 1000+ lbs……

matt picio
Guest

In Oregon, being drunk in public is not a crime. Officers can put a civil hold on you and take you to detox, but there is no criminal offense.

cold worker
Guest
cold worker

drunk biking: vas’up or ish don’t think so.

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

“… I recently moved from Utah, where they have the surprising common sense to exclude cyclists from DUI penalties. It seems obvious that the crime isn’t the same on a bicycle. …” Ron December 8, 2010 at 4:18 pm

Would you think that as you say Utah does, Oregon should exclude cyclists from DUI penalties?

I ask myself, ‘why would people consider that people choosing to ride a bike while drunk should be subject to any penalty at all?’.

It’s because drunks riding bikes pose a threat to people responsibly using the road. People riding bikes under the influence of alcohol and drugs create havoc on the roads. They injure and kill people. They get themselves killed and injured ….something that can thoroughly mess up their surviving family members lives.

Through relatively less penalty and fine amounts assigned to BUI offenders, a kind of implication is conveyed that biking while drunk or high is somehow ‘o.k.’. It’s not o.k. .

John Lascurettes
Guest

Punishable? Sure. To the same degree as intoxicated motor-vehicle operation? No.

Should be a slap on the wrist (maybe even an expensive one) but it should neither be a felony, nor affect your DMV record.

John Lascurettes
Guest

Let me rephrase my first statement: Punishable? Debatable. To the same degree as intoxicated motor-vehicle operation? Most definitely not.

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

“… To the same degree as intoxicated motor-vehicle operation? Most definitely not.” John Lascurettes

Okay. Questions that follow are: ‘How aggressively should people be discouraged from riding a bike while intoxicated? What should the penalties be?

I’m all for people having a good time, enjoying a drink or three. Hanging out at street-side beer gardens taking in the sun, watching and talking with the people can be a great experience.

If and when they become drunk, they better not be trying to operate a vehicle on the road until they sober up. If a BUI notation on their DMV record helps dissuade people from riding drunk, then the notation is probably a good idea.

If a person develops a habit of riding a bike while intoxicated, upon having access to a motor vehicle, what is there to suggest that they will wait until sober before driving a motor vehicle? Operating any vehicle for use on the road while drunk is a very bad practice to be enabling through less than very strong disincentives.

drew
Guest

I have read about communities that have considered this and wisely decided to not enforce BUI. If my drinking uncle would get the same consequences whether on his rusty cruiser bike or in his Buick, he would rather drive. There is a potential for him taking out a minivan with a family in it on his way home, but on the bike the injury would most likely be only to himself. It is a huge mistake to have the same penalties for BUI.

Bike riding makes me hungry and good Portland beer has lots of calories. Most people do not drink to excess, and having cops staked out near the Hopworks bike bar is a serious waste of resources. Good grief, if they need to write some tickets get on any freeway when it is not rush hour and pull over everybody. They will all be speeding, because whenever I am on the Banfield going the limit, cars pass me like I am standing still.

jim
Guest
jim

Just like Forrest said-
Stupid is, is stupis does

CaptainKarma
Guest
CaptainKarma

Stoned driver kills eight (8) cyclists in Italy:

“News sources report that the motorist had been smoking marijuana prior to the crash….”
This was on Sunday. From BikingBis.com

http://www.bikingbis.com/blog/_archives/2010/12/5/4696644.html

jim
Guest
jim

and they want to make it legal here.

John Lascurettes
Guest

Drinking is also legal, but driving while drinking is not. Nor is it legal to drive while inhibited by prescription or OTC drugs. That old argument about pot doesn’t wash.

cold worker
Guest
cold worker

if you don’t smoke you probably are unaware of how many things are done on the job, daily, by people who get high or are high. you’d be amazed.

jim
Guest
jim

Thats just great, I’ll remember that next time I am depending on someone to make sober actions on my behalf, my taxi driver, my surgean, my pilot, my tax guy…. Do you really want to live where everybody is stoned or drunk on the job?

Paul Johnson
Guest
Paul Johnson

Gotta do something to ease the pressure of living in a country that has effectively killed off it’s labor movement.

cold worker
Guest
cold worker

come on, jim. your surgeon is on pain killers he prescribed to himself, the pilot is a drunk, your tax preparer does tons of coke and the cab driver is on speed. we all know this. i’m just talking about smoking weed since you brought it up. and i’ll say it again; you’d be amazed…

Marcus Griffith
Guest
Marcus Griffith

DUI’s don’t apply to bikes in Washington State. But, negligent and reckless driving do apply.

Regardless of the laws, bike safe; and that does mean cycling sober.

Kevin Wagoner
Guest

Biking and drinking might be dangerous, but focusing on this is a distraction to Driving and drinking which is far more deadly to our society.

jim
Guest
jim

How much more deadly is it than a drunk cyclist riding in front of a car?

Opus the Poet
Guest

To the cyclist, or to everybody else? As has been pointed out ad nauseum a cyclist by virtue of the reduced mass and velocity is mostly dangerous to himself, and due to the reduced cross-section of a cyclist compared to a motor vehicle is less likely to hit a pedestrian than a motor vehicle. So you have 2 equally drunk operators, one driving a Suburban with a cooler in the front seat, and the other riding a Big Dummy with a cooler on the back. Which operator is the more dangerous to you, personally. Or to phrase it another way, which one would you want on your street around your kids.

Don’t forget that because of the physical exertion of riding a bike the bike rider will be much less drunk per mile of travel than the driver of the vehicle bigger than a 3rd world house.

middle of the road guy
Guest
middle of the road guy

Drunk drivers are arrested because of the potential harm they may cause others, not to themselves.

sara
Guest
sara

Wondering if you can post a link to this news story. I was looking for it but couldn’t find it.

It seems there was probably more to the story then just a cyclist running over a child because they were drunk. Most people aren’t drunk until night- so why was there a toddler in the street at night without a parent?

Paul Johnson
Guest
Paul Johnson

The child was holding the parent’s hand, the guy on the bicycle was not only driving drunk, but riding on the sidewalk: Also illegal.

matt picio
Guest

Actually, it’s not – it’s only illegal in certain areas of downtown. It’s perfectly legal to ride on the sidewalk in Rose Quarter – though certainly not smart during certain times.

jim
Guest
jim

This is what irks me. No matter what a cyclist does wrong there are always people who come out trying to justify the cyclists actions. Why all the camaraderie with some fool that hops on a bike?

Paul Johnson
Guest
Paul Johnson

Call your mom, it might not happen again: jim said something that makes sense!

jim
Guest
jim

Thanks Paul

middle of the road guy
Guest
middle of the road guy

Agreed.

Chris
Guest
Chris

Last summer while driving I saw an obviously drunk person in the bike lane on Powell (don’t worry; he looked too dirty to be coming from Hopworks). He swerved to the left extremely hard and caused the car in front of me to slam on its brakes. This idiot was a danger to himself, the car in front of me, the car behind me, and practically everyone one else in the vicinity.

How about we end this whole stupid argument: if you are going to drink and ride/drive, know your limits. If you want to get intoxicated, have a DD, walk home, to take a cab (yes the van cabbies will let you throw a bike in the back). Problem solved!

Red Five
Guest
Red Five

This is BikePortland, So drunk biking MUST be okay. Hurry up Jonathan and delete this too before someone sees not everyone is in lockstep with you.

beth h
Guest

BUI is simply another opportunity for someone to eventually connect the dots and legislate mandatory bicyclsts’ licenses. Pay attention, people.

Paul Johnson
Guest
Paul Johnson

That’s a bad thing why? You’re operating a vehicle. Vehicles are weapons you can ride on.

cold worker
Guest
cold worker

i thought it was settled that bike licensing don’t work or make sense. if it’s a vehicle in the sense that you need an operators license then what do we do about kids?

a bike is less a weapon than the pocket knife i carry. i can absolutely harm or kill you with my knife. my bike, hmm, maybe. (i don’t want to hurt you or anyone ever though)

middle of the road guy
Guest
middle of the road guy

almost funny if it were not so imaginative.