Thursday, December 9, 2010

It is legal to drink and bike in Washington state

In the great state of Washington, is it perfectly legal to ride a bicycle while intoxicated?

Not being a lawyer or qualified to answer such a question, it appears that the answer is a resounding "Affirmative."

1) If you're ridin' dirty, and a cop suspects you of being under the influence of alcohol or drugs, he/she is within their power to ... give you a ride home. The cop "may" offer assistance.

2) If a cop determines you are too drunk to ride they can take your bike, but only if there is nobody else around to take it, and there are no "reasonable alternatives" to impoundment. Once impounded they have to give it back ASAP and can't charge you a fee.

3) They can only take you with them if you are so blotto it's scary, or, as the law puts it, "incapacitated or gravely disabled." They cannot arrest you, but can take you into "protective custody" and bring you to a treatment facility or a hospital. Not arrested? No. The law: "A taking into protective custody under this section is not an arrest. No entry or other record shall be made to indicate that the person has been arrested or charged with a crime."

So, in other words, in 2000 the state Legislature approved, and former Gov. Locke signed, a law that makes it against the law to make drunken biking against the law.

Here is the law.

Oregon stinks

UPDATE: Here is an explanation of the law from a local law office, if that makes you feel better.

UPDATE: Here is a 1995 state appeals court opinion overturning a DUI conviction from Montesano, Grays Harbor County (Montesano v. Wells). This is the case that likely led to our Right to Bike Drunkenly.

The cyclist in question blew a .13 BAC and was observed swerving on city streets at about 3 a.m. Daniel Wells, the defendant, said he didn't feel drunk, was swerving to dodge pot holes, and failed field sobriety tests because he was nervous.

The point of contention, however, was the definition of  "motor vehicle" and "vehicle" in statute. Lawmakers had included bicycles in a definition of "vehicles," but not "motor vehicles." The court said this explains why the state thought it could cite, prosecute, and convict people with a DUI on a bike, but that the state is wrong. Just wrong. "In construing statutes, spirit and intent prevail over the literal letter of the law," the court said, and exempted cyclists, saying lawmakers never intended to include bicycles in the DUI law.

The court went on to say that the proportional danger posed by drunken cyclists is far less than drunken motorists. "Moreover, because bicyclists are required to abide by the rules of the road ... , police may cite any person riding in an unsafe manner, whether due to intoxication or not."

Five years later lawmakers did their jobs and clarified the law with RCW 46.61.790, which codifies the right to drink and ride.

Interestingly enough, drunken cycling remains illegal in the nation's most Bike Friendly City.

For further context, consider that Montesano's other claim to judicial infamy is providing the venue for the bogus trial of the Wobblies associated with the Centralia Massacre of 1919, one of early chapters in our country's Red Scare saga.


  1. Dude, you need to enable the facebook, digg, etc buttons on the bottom of your posts. This news needs to be spread. No army can stop an idea whose time has come.

  2. that's a great idea! do you know how one goes about doing such a thing?

  3. While in the editing section of your blog, select the design tab. Then, within the box marked 'blog posts' click 'edit'. Approximately 1/3 of the way down the page check the box marked 'Show Share Buttons' (which also has mini logos of multiple social networking sites). Then all of your posts can be rapidly linked to millions of users all around the world! Bottoms up my friend