Should Cyclists Be Protected from Themselves?

I wrote a quick news article today on about Upper Arlington's examination of State bicycle law and a loophole that says cyclists can only be charged if they're on a street or bike path. That wasn't something I was aware of. Here's the article.

So the situation here is that the guy was drunk. REALLY drunk - three times the legal limit. And he was riding his bike to the ATM (in a shopping plaza's parking lot) because he was trying to be safe by not driving his car.  

Seems a pretty noble thing to do, right? He avoided being unsafe to other people by getting where he needed to go via a safer form of transportation. But he was still stopped for DUI. Granted, the charge was reduced because of the loophole mentioned in the article but that's really not the point here.

The point is that I'm concerned about laws that are designed to protect people from their own stupidity. I can totally understand automobile-related laws of this nature. Let's face it - cars kill. And the number one cause of car-related killings is irresponsibility. Using a cell phone or texting while driving, DUI, etc. are all forms of this.  Groups like MADD have all sorts of statistics for DUI, and obviously there are plenty of laws going on the books about distracted driving related to cell phone, texting, etc.

But what about cyclists? One can make the argument that a cyclist who takes to the streets and doesn't pay attention, talks on a phone, or is even mind-numbingly schnockered is endangering other folks on the road - drivers may swerve to miss a cyclist who's riding a bit wobbly for whatever reason and hit someone else.

But in this case, it was 1:00 AM and the rider was in a parking lot. Was this traffic stop really needed? The police officer in question probably wouldn't even have noticed the cyclist if this had been daytime, and a normal number of cars was around to occupy his attention.

What do you think?

People, not speed.


  1. It seems that you've already agreed a drunk cyclist can endanger others. So they may not need to be protected from themselves, but I do think other people need to be protected from them.

    In the UA case, how did the cyclist get to the parking lot? Presumably he was in the public way (i.e., street, sidewalk, or path) at some point. It would be a rare trip that is made by bicycle entirely on private property. So I guess the officer could/should have waited until the cyclist left the parking lot to stop him.

  2. It probably is rare that a cyclist could get to the parking lot without using the street (or sidewalk, which is another issue altogether). But it is technically possible. Yes, the officer should have waited if he wanted to get the whole charge properly attributed here.

  3. It's a tricky and a touchy subject. A few years ago here in NC they changed the law on DUI. It used to be that certain vehicles were exempt from DUI: horses, bicycles, and, I think, lawnmowers. Then the law was changed and I believe only horses are now exempt.

    While I'm not in favour of allowing people, on bicycles or otherwise, to wander public spaces unsafely (because they are not just endangering themselves. They could be the cause of an accident without actually being in a car), I don't think it makes sense for the law to treat them equally in this instance. A drunk driver can do far more damage than a drunk cyclist or pedestrian. And when I'm riding home late after a show, I never think, "Man, I hope I don't get wiped out by a drunk cyclist." If someone under the influence was going to try and get themselves home, I would much rather they were on a bike than in a car. For that reason alone, I don't like the idea of the law treating the two offenses as one. The other issue I have is that the consequence of a DUI is, or can be, losing your license. It doesn't make sense to me that a crime committed without a car would cause you to lose your license.

    So I don't actually see it as a law that protects cyclists from themselves (that would be a helmet law). But I do see it as law that goes overboard to the point that the punishment does not fit the crime.

  4. I agree with Rob. I just moved to Columbus from small town, Arkansas and biking drunk was a common practice for some of us college kids. The streets would be nearly empty at night so it wouldn't be hard to safely bike across town to get home after a party. I always heard both sides of the interactions with police. Some police in our town would try and charge you with public intox if you were walking home in the middle of the night over the legal limit, and some police would commend you for not driving and ask if you needed any help.

    Of course, that's the thing about 'the legal limit' it's different for everyone, and while I think there's no logical way to fluctuate this number for the sake of the law, there should be lesser consequences for cycling while intoxicated. If you're stumbling home on a sidewalk and get charged for public intoxication, it's not nearly as bad as if you were driving, and rightly so. Perhaps cycling while drunk should find a common ground in the middle?

    The issue of profiling should also come up. Is someone walking home at 3 a.m. on a friday night less likely to get attention from cops than someone biking home at the same time? I know that sometimes cops like to force their own "laws" onto cyclists, and I've been stopped before at night for riding my bike, told it was dangerous and that I should go home. Hmmm.

  5. Useful post. You keep churning out some good info!

  6. Police are people just like anyone else, only when they get cranky they have the ability to arrest or ticket those of us who fall afoul of them. Fair? Probably not. But it's a fact.

    In reality, I agree that the consequences for a cyclist who's biking while hammered should be less IN SOME CASES. In the above case, for example - the streets were bare, he was just getting some cash, and it was 1:00 AM. Now, if you have drunk cyclists plowing down High Street during Gallery Hop or an OSU game, then those guys need to be prosecuted and punished to the fullest extent possible.

    HOWEVER, and this is the big caveat, our legal system is complex enough. Writing this sort of thing into the law is more trouble than it's worth - it's just going to make this stuff harder to prosecute and put judgments upon. And our police are overworked, let's face it. That's not an easy job. Forcing them to go through a list of conditions to stop a person who's weaving in and out of traffic on a bike after leaving a bar is not something I want them doing, to be frank.

    So I don't really have an issue with leaving it to the judges to make those calls. Sure, it's a pain in the butt to have to go to court and defend yourself when it's just a small thing (or even a big thing but with some extenuating circumstances).

    I guess in the case above, there's no logical reason that this guy should have gotten six points on his license instead of two - he was trying to do the right thing. There's no way that a drunk cyclist at 1:00 AM in a parking lot should have the same penalty as a motorist driving drunk leaving an OSU game, for example. I think most judges agree with that, as do most prosecutors.

  7. Thanks, Wendy! It's been a bit dry recently but I'm glad to get back on the horse.

  8. Irresponsibility is one of the reason why there are so many accidents on the road. It is bad to text while you are driving.


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