Drinking and Biking: It’s a Crime in DC

When we speak of a DUI, it is typically assumed that the vehicle involved is a car or truck. Believe it or not, in the District of Columbia, it is possible to be charged with DUI while riding a bicycle. An actual bike. With pedals.

In 2010, the D.C. Court of Appeals faced this issue in Everton v. District of Columbia. The Court had to decide whether a bicycle constitutes a “vehicle” under the D.C.’s DUI statute. The Court found that a bicycle is covered under the District’s definition of a “vehicle,” which at the time was “any appliance moved over a highway on wheels or traction treads, including street cars, draft animals, and beasts of burden.” D.C. Code §§ 50–2201.02(9).

In August, 2012, the DC Council passed the Comprehensive Impaired Driving and Alcohol Testing Program Emergency Amendment Act of 2012 (“The Act”). The Act contained the same definition of a “vehicle.” But the act also defined a “motor vehicle” as “all vehicles propelled by internal combustion engines, electricity, or steam.” The distinction of a “vehicle” and a “motor vehicle” is very important for citizens who are charged with DUI-bicycle.

The Act, like most DUI laws in the country, contains what is called an “Implied Consent” (IC) component of the law. The IC component states that if a police officer has reasonable grounds to believe that a person was operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated or impaired by alcohol, then that person shall be deemed to have consented to submitting two specimens of blood, breath or urine for chemical testing. If the person refuses to submit the specimens, then there are potential negative effects of the refusal such as a suspension of driving privileges in the District and the use of that refusal against the person at trial.

According to the Act, the IC component only pertains to motor vehicles. It does not apply to “vehicles,” such as bicycles. This means that a person arrested for DUI-bicycle is NOT required in any way to submit to chemical testing. It also means that the person’s refusal to submit to any chemical testing cannot be used against the person in any negative way.

If the government chooses to prosecute a DUI-bicycle…or any other vehicle defined by the Act…the evidence is limited to the officer’s observations of the defendant while riding the bike, any statements by the defendant, and the defendant’s performance on field sobriety tests. The Act does not permit chemical testing for a DUI-vehicle. Those citizens charged with these types of offenses should take these cases to trial every time because of the limited evidence available to the government.

The Everton case was an unfortunate example of judicial overreach where a unique set of facts resulted in a bad legal precedent. The severe penalties and consequences of the Act are based partly on the risks of driving a 4,000 pound machine propelled by explosive chemical reactions at potentially high speeds while allegedly under the influence.

Although the risks of driving a bike while under the influence should not be understated, they do not approach the seriousness of the danger created by an out-of-control automobile. Also, this ruling may have problematic unintended consequences: if people are discouraged from bike-riding after a couple of drinks, they are more likely to choose a more convenient, but far more dangerous option—driving a car.

By the way, it should be noted that driving a mule cart around DC while drunk is prohibited by the Act’s definition of “vehicle” as well. Watch out, civil war re-enactors.

About Micheal Bruckheim

As a former Prosecutor, Michael Bruckheim has experience on the other side of the aisle. Prior to founding his law office in 2010, Mr. Bruckheim enjoyed a diverse career in litigation at the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia (OAG) serving for over 11 years. He began his OAG career as a prosecutor in the Criminal Section where he conducted numerous bench and jury trials in traffic and criminal misdemeanor matters. Mr. Bruckheim was promoted and served as Chief of the Criminal Section at the OAG where he supervised the prosecution of DUI offenses in the District and directed a staff of over 20 attorneys.