GETTING LEGAL: Drinking and Riding – a bad idea, but is it illegal?

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GETTING LEGAL: Drinking and Riding – a bad idea, but is it illegal?

We were all taught from an early age to never drink and drive. But is it illegal to drink and ride a bicycle? The answer is actually not as straightforward for bicycles as it is for cars.

Impaired operation of a motor vehicle is regulated under the Ontario Highway Traffic Act and the Criminal Code of Canada. There is a licencing system which teaches drivers who to drive and that drinking and driving is prohibited.  Police are empowered to conduct random spot checks looking for drunk drivers and can charge impaired drivers regardless of whether they cause an accident.

By contrast, biking and impaired biking are not nearly as regulated.  We have no licencing system which would include teaching the pitfalls of cycling under the influence.  Drunk cycling is not caught under the ambit of the Highway Traffic Act or the Criminal Code.  Nevertheless, cyclists can still be punished for riding while impaired.  If a rider is visibly impaired, they can be charged under the Liquor Licence Act for public intoxication. Police officers also have the ability to ticket a cyclist if they are biking in careless, reckless or unsafe manner or if they are breaking rules of the road.  Police may have the right to conduct a breathalyzer test or coordination assessment of a cyclist that appears intoxicated.  In the most extreme cases charges could result in jail time.

A rider who consumes alcohol or drugs, not only puts themselves at risk but also the safety of those around them.  Cyclists have little protection in the event of a fall or collision.  They do not have airbags, crash resistant bumpers or vehicle warning sensors. A study conducted by Johns Hopkins University found that biking while having a blood alcohol level at or above the legal limit of .08 increases the risk of serious injury by 2000%.

Alcohol can have quite an alarming impact on the cyclist. A cyclist is engaged in physical exercise, which can accelerate the rate that alcohol enters the bloodstream and the brain.  As a result, a riders balance, motor control and ability to respond to outside factors can be more significantly affected. Alcohol can also impair judgment and decision making while riding.

As with a car, the best advice for anyone considering drinking and biking is to leave the bike and take public transit, get a ride or walk.  While the legal consequences may not be as severe as drinking and driving, the potential life result could be worse.

Some jurisdictions have started to regulate drunk cycling such as Ireland and Japan. It remains to be seen if Ontario will follow suit.

Note: Singer Kwinter will be contributing a few posts to BikingToronto in June in honour of Brain Injury Awareness Month.  This post originally appeared on Biking Toronto on June 12, 2017.