Scooter and Bike DUIs in California

Are bicycle- and scooter-share riders within the reach of California’s DUI laws?

Scooter and bike services like Bird, Lime, and Gobike are in nearly every large California town. In some areas, scooters seem to litter the streets. And when you leave a bar after enjoying a few drinks, you may be tempted to hop aboard rather than calling a cab or walking. But what does the law say about scootering and biking while intoxicated? Could a short ride home with booze in your system lead to a DUI charge and a night in jail?

Although motorized scooters, electric bikes, and traditional bikes are subject to most of the same traffic laws as regular vehicles, drunk biking or scootering pose less risk to the public than "traditional" drunk driving. Accordingly, special laws apply to intoxicated scootering and biking that are less harsh than the DUI laws that apply to other motor vehicles.

Intoxicated Scootering

California Vehicle Code section 21221.5 specifically prohibits operating a "motorized scooter" on a highway while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of the two. A person is considered "under the influence" if he or she is substantially affected by the substance or substances ingested.

However, although traditional DUIs have a "per se" blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit of .08%, there is no corresponding scootering "per se" limit. For scootering under the influence, BAC is relevant but not necessarily determinative of whether the rider violated the law.

Also, riders who are suspected to be in violation of section 21221.5 are not subject to California's implied consent law—which normally requires motorists to take a chemical blood alcohol test. Although you don't have to take a test, if you believe a blood, urine, or breath test will help prove your sobriety, you have the right to ask for one.

Without the ability to compel a BAC test, to justify an arrest an officer must rely on observations of actual impairment like slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, and poor driving or field sobriety test performance.

Conviction is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $250, but your driver's license won't be impacted and the conviction won't count against your driving record. Keep in mind, though, that a misdemeanor can stay on your criminal record for life.

Intoxicated Biking

Pedal bicycles. For regular pedal bikes, California has a specific law against "cycling under the Influence" or "CUI." California Vehicle Code section 21200.5 prohibits riding a bicycle while under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or a combination of the two.

CUI is a misdemeanor carrying the same $250 fine as scootering while intoxicated. A CUI conviction won't count against your driver's license unless you are under 21-years-old, in which case your license may be suspended.

Motorized and electric bicycles. California doesn't have a statute that specifically addresses riding an electric or motorized bicycle while under the influence. And the CUI statute applies only to bikes "propelled exclusively by human power." So, presumably, anyone caught riding an electric bike while intoxicated could be charged with a standard DUI.

Possibility of Facing Standard DUI Charges

California's DUI laws generally apply to all "motor vehicles," defined as vehicles that are "self-propelled"—with a few specific exceptions, including electric wheelchairs. So, anyone who operates an electric or gas-powered scooter or bike while intoxicated could possibly be charged with a standard DUI. The prosecutor chooses how to charge the offense.

General and Special Traffic Laws Apply

Although scooters, bikes, and e-bikes may seem toy-like, riders must obey all traffic laws that reasonably apply to those types of vehicles (such as stopping at stop signs and traffic lights, obeying speed limits, and traveling with the flow of traffic). Additional special laws apply:

  • Riding scooters (and often bikes) on public sidewalks is prohibited.
  • You cannot carry passengers on scooters or e-bikes.
  • Scooters and bikes must use bike lanes whenever possible.
  • You cannot use the left turn lane on a scooter but must pull to the right and use the pedestrian crosswalk.
  • While state law doesn't require adults operating a scooter to wear a DOT-approved safety helmet, you must wear one while riding a motorized bike. Also, individual cities can enact their own helmet ordinances, so be aware of local laws.

You'll need a valid driver's license to ride a scooter-but not a motorized bike if that bike has pedals, an electric motor smaller than 1,000 watts, and a maximum speed of 20 miles per hour or less. Most bike-share electric bikes meet these criteria. And although you don't need a license to operate an e-bike, you must be at least 16 years old.

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