The potential to cause harm while bicycling under the influence is different than when you’re driving a car, so the fines and penalties for doing so should be too. That was the thinking behind a bill that passed the Oregon Legislature this past session.
House Bill 2316 included a package of revisions to Oregon’s driving under the influence laws. It expanded the types of intoxicants that could trigger a DUI conviction, it changed eligibility options for diversion programs, and it reduced the fines and penalties for people cited for bicycling under the influence.
You might not have realized it, but current Oregon DUI law applies equally to operators of cars and bicycles. It’s likely that authors of our original DUI law didn’t consider bicycling under the influence, but because a “bicycle” is considered a “vehicle” in Oregon statute (unless the law obviously cannot apply to a bicycle), the law captures everyone with the same net.
Given that bicycle DUIs are inherently less of a threat to public safety than car DUIs, Mae Lee Browning, the legislative director for the Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, felt the punishment should more closely fit the crime. “The level of harm is just different,” Browning shared in an interview with BikePortland. “I know that bicycles can go into a street and cause car crashes, but they are different.”
Browning worked closely on the bill with legislator Jason Kropf, a Democrat from Bend who’s also chair of the House Judiciary Committee. Lobbyists with the Oregon District Attorneys Association also worked on the bill.
Reached at her office for comment today, Browning said the bicycle provisions were her group’s idea. Much of her work is focused on reducing criminal penalties and helping people avoid lengthy prison sentences and other barriers that make it hard for them to re-enter society after being convicted of a crime. “Ideally, we wanted to make bike DUIs, not a DUI at all, but that wasn’t going to be feasible,” Browning said. She then hoped to prohibit bicycle DUIs from being a predicate for felony DUI. That is, current law says if you get three DUIs in 10 years, the third one is a felony. Browning wanted bike DUIs to not count in that tally. But that would have required a 2/3 vote since the DUI law was passed via a ballot measure.
So Browning opted instead to reduce the fines and other penalties associated with bicycling under the influence. Here’s how the bill impacts intoxicated bicycle riders:
- Instead of a minimum $1,000 fine, HB 2316 makes BUI a minimum $500 fine. (But if the person is bicycling with a 0.15 blood-alcohol content or higher, they are fined the same as a driver.)
- The bill does not apply to electric bikes. So if you’re on an e-bike, you’re treated just like you were driving a car.
- Provisions in the law relating to suspension and revocation of a drivers license do not apply if you were riding a bicycle.
- Judges will need to declare if a person was riding a bicycle or not. (This will give us better data in the future.)
- The maximum sentence for community service would be 48 hours, compared to as much as 500 hours if you were driving.
- People convicted of bicycle DUI will not be required to attend a victim impact treatment session.
Representative Tom Andersen (D-19) was one of the supporters of the bill. An attorney and cyclist himself, Rep. Andersen shared with BikePortland via email, “The punishment should fit the potential danger caused by a crime.” Here’s more from Andersen:
“Operating a vehicle of any kind while under the influence is dangerous but a car is different than a bicycle. A car is a weapon of mass destruction and can hurt many people such as other passengers in the car, other cars with multiple passengers, pedestrians, cyclists, or other large groups of people sharing the road. A bicyclist isn’t a massive weapon of destruction. If bicyclists are driving under the influence, they are endangering themselves the most. The risk to others is far less than those operating a car.”
To Browning, when people choose to ride a bike instead of drive, it’s often because it’s safer than driving a car. “So people are already taking that extra step to reduce harm,” she said.
“We’re trying to right-size the criminal justice system.”
The new law goes into effect January 1st, 2024.