I’ve heard many people assert this myth before, but to set the record straight — no, you can’t get arrested for drunken driving while on a bicycle in Wisconsin.
While you can’t get an OWI while biking, there are other ways that cycling while sloshed can net you a fine or worse.
This all came to mind after coming across a handy illustrated guide to the laws governing use of vehicles — not including cars or trucks — found in the back of the proposed update to the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan.
Since 2010, Eau Claire has had a whole plan with the idea of making the city a better place for people getting around on foot or bicycle. The plan is in the midst of a refresher for 2018, and it is making the rounds to city commissions before ultimately getting the City Council’s seal of approval.
In the back of the document, there’s a chart showing that bikes and other non-motorized modes of transportation aren’t subject to Wisconsin’s drunken-driving laws, which specifically apply to vehicles with motors.
Just to make sure I was understanding this legal point right, I asked city attorney Stephen Nick.
Indeed, if you’re riding a traditional bicycle powered only by your legs, you’re not subject to Wisconsin’s drunken- driving laws, he stated in an email. But if you are on a motorized scooter or power-assist bike, it’s possible to get an OWI.
A quick Google search also finds online articles and blogs that quote personal injury and criminal defense lawyers pointing to that same distinction in Wisconsin’s laws.
So you can’t get arrested for drunken driving on a bike just for the fact of having a blood alcohol level of .08 or over, but you could face other problems, including running afoul of a new Eau Claire law.
Remember back in October when the city approved its new excessive public intoxication ordinance? Well, if you’ve had too many to drink and are wobbling your bicycle in a way where you’re likely to harm yourself or others, the police could stop you for it.
And should alcohol-addled bike riding actually bring injury to another person, that could bring a charge of injury by intoxicated use of a vehicle, a felony offense, according to a blog by Madison attorney Patrick Stangl that appears on his firm’s website.
A comprehensive July 2015 article on the Capital Times website also included a few stories of drunken cyclists who were injured when they careened into cars.
Those anecdotes were part of an article noting the growing bike culture in Madison, especially with people opting to cycle between bars instead of drive.
That trend is becoming apparent in Eau Claire as well with bike corrals that have popped up lately in front of a few businesses where a curbside parking stall used to be. A couple of these corrals are in front of taverns.
Biking home from bars is certainly much safer for the general public than getting behind the wheel of a 2-ton car. But if you’re having a hard time staying upright on two wheels, it might be best to call an Uber or Lyft instead of trying to bike home.