While most University of Minnesota students know that being drunk behind the wheel can get them in trouble, few are aware there is nothing illegal about a common alternative — being drunk behind the handlebars.
According to University police Lt. Troy Buhta, laws addressing driving while intoxicated or under the influence don’t apply to people on bicycles because they aren’t motorized vehicles.
“You still have to obey the traffic laws,” Buhta said, “so if you’re drinking and go through a red light, you could still receive a ticket.”
In an informal survey of 60 University students, nine said they knew or had assumed biking while drunk was legal.
Buhta said police haven’t had many issues with people drinking and biking. On weekends, they mostly give out tickets for underage consumption and open-bottle possession.
Of the students interviewed, 36 said either they bike while drunk or have friends that do.
Some students said getting to and from parties on a bicycle is safer for everyone.
“It’s better to allow people to bike home drunk so they don’t have to get in their cars,” said Matt Laue, a fifth-year history student.
In 2010, 23 percent of bicyclists age 16 and older who were killed had blood alcohol concentrations at or above 0.08 percent, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
“Riding a bicycle is all about balance and coordination,” said Steve Sanders, the alternative transportation coordinator for the University’s Parking and Transportation Services.
He said those abilities, as well as rider judgment, are affected when you’re impaired.
Though Sanders said students shouldn’t bike while drunk, he said it is much less dangerous than drunk driving because bicyclists have less potential to hurt others.
Many students said drunken bicyclists are only a hazard to themselves.
Anna Skov, a technical writing junior, said she thought the biker is the only one likely to die in a collision.
Students had mixed views of bicycling drunk, some calling it “dangerous,” “dumb” or “stupid.” One student said it endangers pedestrians while another said it is hazardous to drivers.
Biochemistry sophomore Dan Larson said it’s fine as long as you know your limits.
“Biking drunk is fairly easy unless you’re really wasted,” he said.
A few students thought there should be a law or penalty against it.
“I think drinking and biking is still just as dangerous as being behind a car,” said Robert Harris, a history senior.
Marketing junior Nick Nobbe said bicycling while drunk should be punishable, but should only carry a “median penalty,” less severe than that of driving under the influence.
Some states have specific laws against bicycling while drunk and some categorize bicyclists under broader DWI/DUI laws. California, for example, has a statute against cycling under the influence of alcohol, punishable by a fine of $250.
Why do it?
Students who admitted to biking drunk said it’s mostly just a way to get around.
“Biking is kind of my main form of transportation in general,” said geography senior Evan Harris.
He said drunk biking may not be a good idea for inexperienced cyclists, especially on streets with heavy traffic.
“I bike everywhere,” said Zach Werkhoven, a neuroscience graduate.
When biking drunk though, Werkhoven said he stays on trails and back roads.
“I guess I just feel safe not being around cars,” he said.
Not a huge issue
None of the students interviewed said drunk biking is a major issue.
“I haven’t run into too many drunk bicyclists getting hurt,” said John Welby, a neuroscience junior.
Buhta said when it comes to biking, police mostly ticket bikes going through red lights or biking in restricted areas, such as Scholars Walk.
He said they haven’t encountered many problems regarding drunk biking.
“We’re lucky I guess,” he said.